Summer flounder ‘scoping’ meeting a new twist for fishermen

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Last week was the first summer flounder (fluke) "scoping" meeting for me and many others. The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), both responsible for managing summer flounder in our State, held a summer flounder scoping meeting.

Summer flounder abundance has moved north in recent years as the ocean water has warmed. So you might say climate change has impacted this fishery in a positive way for Rhode Island fishermen. With this abundance shift and the importance of the species to both commercial and recreational fishing in Rhode Island, fish managers believe it is time to look at old and new science and consider changes to the way summer flounder are managed.

"Scoping", as defined by Kiley Dancy, MAFMC assistant plan coordinator for summer flounder, is "… the process of indentifying issues, potential impacts and reasonable alternatives associated with a particular management issue. It provides the first and best opportunity for the public to make suggestions or to raise issues and concerns before development of an amendment (to regulation) begins."

Key issues in the scoping document provided as idea starters at the meeting included fisheries management plan (FMP) goals, quota allocation between commercial and recreational sectors, commercial and recreational measures and strategies, discards and other issuers.

The commercial sector raised questions about the discard rate they were assigned (14%)… claiming most were "regulatory" discards and that they should be broken out separately. They also wanted to make sure that Rhode Island protected its quota from NY and other states, as they claimed Rhode Island (Pt. Judith) was the third largest summer flounder landing port on the east coast.

Exploring quota allocation was met with spirited discussion. Presently the commercial sector receives 60% of the quota and recreational fishing 40%. Commercial fishermen want to maintain these percentages claiming a great contribution to the RI economy. Fishermen in attendance said they supply fish (for sustenance) to the common man who cannot go fishing and that the economic impact of their portion of the summer flounder fisheries is greater than recreational fishing.

Another major issue at the meeting was raised by the for-hire (charter and party boat industry). About half of the 23 fishermen in attendance were charter captains. Another idea starter on the scoping document at the meeting suggested "Management strategies specific to the party/charter (for-hire) recreational fleet and/or management strategies specific to the private recreational anglers." could be explored when developing new regulations. This could lead to separate private angler and for-hire sectors within the recreational fishery. Just as we have ground fishing and the rod and reel sector within the commercial fishery. Rick Bellavance, president of the Rhode Island Party & Charter Boat Association and eleven charter captains advocated for this separation at the meeting.

Recreational fishing is hard to measure in terms of catch and effort because anglers do not record and report their catch. However, charter captains at the meeting said fish managers know what they are catching via vessel trip reports they submit for every trip as a condition of having Federal fishing licenses. Most of the captains at the meeting said they also record their catch electronically via two pilot projects they are participating in (one of them, a summer flounder cooperative has operated as a pilot project for two years). Rick Bellavance, president of the RIPCBA said, "We believe the for-hire industry should be separated from private anglers within recreational fishing and would like this considered as part of a new summer flounder amendment."

Kiley Dancy from the MAFMC said that depending on the year, charter and party boats take 7 to 14% of recreational summer flounder landings.

The scoping meeting is one of the first steps in the long process of amendment development. It will be followed by selection of key issues, a draft amendment and implementation options as well as a number of public hearings.

Fall fishing workshops

The Department of Environmental Management's Division of Fish and Wildlife will hold several fishing programs this fall. With stripers and bluefish plentiful in Narragansett Bay, autumn is one of the best times of the year to fish. Hosted by the Division's Aquatic Resource Education program, the programs include an introduction to saltwater fly-fishing workshop and a series of fly-tying classes. Pre-registration is required for most programs.

For additional information and for registration materials, contact Kimberly Sullivan in DEM's Aquatic Resource Education program at 539-0019 or via e-mail at kimberly.sullivan@

dem.ri.gov.

Where's the bite

Striped bass. Fishing at night for bass has been production. Anglers Kevin and Albert Bettencourt of East Providence have been fishing in the Warren River at night and landing keeper bass to 34" said John Littlefield of Archie's Bait & Tackle, Riverside. Fishing at Block Island is still slow with anglers hooking up with bluefish more often than bass. Fishing at the southwest side and at the north rip is spotty with angles taking some fish both with eels and on troll. Matt Conti of Snug Harbor Marina said, "Drifting eels with wind and tide in line is producing better results on the southwest side of Block Island."

Tautog fishing continues to improve in the Bay and along coastal shores. This weekend saw mixed results with some anglers catching their limit of three fish, but it was not easy. Richard on the RISAA blog reports a good bite at Land's End Newport where he boated two eight pound tautog Sunday. Jim Laird said Land's End produced tautog for him Monday too. Dave Henault of Ocean State Tackle, Providence said the Providence River at Save the Bay and north along the bulkheads are producing tautog to four pounds." I fished the General Rock, North Kingstown area Monday and found keepers hard to come by… a lot of shorts there too. Matt Conti of Snug Harbor Marine said, "The tautog bite is getting better but is still in shallow water in the 20 foot range."

Black sea bass fishing is good. Dave Henault of Ocean State Tackle, Providence, said "We had difficulty hooking up with tautog (boated eight keepers) off Little Compton Monday but landed over 35 keeper sea bass on Bounty Hunter Charters." Patti Ferrara of Ray's Bait & Tackle, Warwick said, "We had a customer cleaning a bucket full of sea bass they caught them in the Newport Bridge area Sunday."

Offshore fishing is still good. Matt Conti of Snug Harbor Marina said, "Customers landed yellow fin tuna and sword fish at the Fish Tales and the Mud Hole this week. And, Snappa Charters hooked up with a mako shark."

False albacore and bonito fishing continues to be good along coastal shores but has slowed a bit. "False albacore and bonito fishing is great. We are in the fall migration they are mixed n with striped bass too from the center wall of the Harbor of Refuge all the way to Watch Hill. Action on the beaches is very good." said Matt Conti of Snug Harbor. Dave Henault of Ocean State Tackle said, "We were anchored up off Little Compton bottom fishing when I started to work a small Daddy Mac lure and to my surprise hooked up with and landed a five pound bonito." Jim Laird on the RISAA blog said, "Still plenty of false albacore around on the south shore… mostly just north of Quonnie Breachway. Schools of falsies were popping up everywhere. We landed six casting deadly dicks. Fish were very picky. Took many casts to get these. Tried flies and small plastics behind wood eggs and tried trolling for them also. Nothing. Beautiful morning out there. Get out there and catch these fish while you can. They're great fun on light tackle!"

Cod fishing is improving. Roger Simpson of the Frances Fleet said, "The bite has been very soft for the most part with the cod. Patience and constant re baiting with fresh soft belly baits is key and swing at any little nuance you may feel. If one is waiting for a bit bite he or she may be waiting awhile. Sometimes leaving a small belly of slack in the line so the bait sits right on the ground was the only way to get the attention of Mr. Whiskers. A few nicer fish this past Sunday and again Monday and also on Friday. Pool fish Sunday was biggest so far this fall season with a fat green fish in the low 20's taken by longtime regular customer Danny Patrick from Johnstown RI."

Captain Dave Monti has been fishing and shell fishing for over 40 years. He holds a captain's master license and a charter fishing license. Visit Captain Dave's No Fluke website at www.noflukefishing.com or e-mail him with your fishing news and photos at dmontifish@verizon.net.

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