Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lots of comments at fisheries meeting… just the way it should be

Mike Bucko of Bucko Bait & Tackle makes his point at Monday’s fisheries meeting.

Lots of comments at fisheries meeting… just the way it should be

If one of the objectives of the Department of Environmental Management’s (DEM) new “Lean Initiative” meeting format is to encourage participation at fisheries meetings, Monday night’s meeting at the URI Bay Campus was a big success. 

Over 80 fishermen openly and freely expressed their points of view on primarily recreational fishing quotas, proposed regulation options and user group proposals.  I say user groups because in fisheries management a variety of groups compete for access to the same finite resource (see striped bass example below).

Monday’s meeting combined what normally takes place over four different evenings into one night.  Multiple meetings have hampered angler attendance in the past.  Traditionally participation at Advisory Panel meetings held over four different evenings are limited (three to six fishermen, fifteen or twenty if an important issue is being discussed).  Often times those that participate are industry leaders that can sway votes on important issues without getting perspectives from average fishermen because they are simply not in the room.

There was no doubt at the 4:30 p.m. workshop that different user groups including private anglers were in the room to listen to stock status, last year’s fish landings and proposed regulation options for summer flounder, black sea bass, tautog, scup, striped bass and others.  Anglers were able to ask fish managers and marine biologist questions, express their point of view and support or not support proposed regulation options as well as propose alternative options. 

The workshop was followed by an official public hearing at 7:00 p.m. Fishermen comments were recorded to pass along to the Rhode Island Marine Fisheries Council (RIMFC) for their March 2 meeting and then will be passed along  to DEM Director Janet Coit along with Council recommendations as part of the input she will receive for her decision making process.
Fishermen in the room did not agree on regulation options, however, the points of view of many were heard together in a public setting in a much more robust way than traditional Advisory Panel meetings.

If you missed the meeting, it is not too late to comment as DEM has extended the public comment period. Written comments concerning the proposed regulations may be submitted to Peter Duhamel, Division of Fish and Wildlife Marine Fisheries office, 3 Fort Wetherill Road, Jamestown, RI 02835 no later than 12:00 Noon on February 26, 2015.  Email all communications to  .

Meeting highlights
Striped bass took center stage with nearly an hour and half of discussion at the meetings.  Coastwide the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), which sets regulations for east coast migratory species, approved a one fish at 28” for all anglers with the caveat that states could come up with conservation equivalency options that achieved at least a 25% reduction in striped bass landings in 2015.  Striped bass fish stocks, particularly the spawning stock of egg bearing females is on the decline and all agree that something has to be done to reduce landings.

Conservation equivalency was the sticking point at the meeting; many anglers did not know or did not feel that a two fish solution was appropriate even if it reduced landings by 25%. 

Every user group has their perspective on fishing quotas and regulations, particularly striped bass.  Two options were proposed in the presentation Monday… one fish at a minimum size of 28” for all anglers, and then a second option that was one fish at 28” for private anglers and two fish at a minimum size of 32” for charter and party boats.

Some for hire party and charter boat operators at the meeting claimed they earn their living by taking people fishing so they advocated for two fish at 32” for their customers.  Many claim their customers fish once a year compared to private anglers and the impact on the fishery is minimal.  They also say charter boats contribute greatly to tourism and the economy and should be treated differently from private fishermen because it is a business not recreation.
Capt. Denny Dillon, representing the Rhode Island Party and Charter Boat Association said, “Each year our industry contributes about $25-million to Rhode Island’s economy in economic impact. We need the two fish to attract customers.”

Peter Jenkins of the Saltwater Edge, Newport said he was representing a group of ten bait and tackle shops and that he (and they) supported, “One fish at a 28” minimum size for both private recreational anglers and charter boats.”  Many bait and tackle customers practice catch and release, yet many also fish in tournaments and take larger, and larger, egg bearing fish.

Commercial fishermen at the meeting wanted one fish at 28” and did not want their commercial counterparts, the party and charter boats, to have the right to take two fish.
Michael Lanni said, “If commercial boats are taking a 25% reduction and private angles are bound to one fish at 28”, the charter and party boats should be limited to one fish too.”  Lanni continued to say he was not pleased with the new “Lean” meeting format because he did not get a chance to meet with others on the panel to decide how they felt about proposed options.

Steve Medeiros, president of the Rhode Saltwater Anglers Association said, “It was our understanding that the ASMFC has already approved a two fish at 32” conservation equivalency proposal for RI.”  Representatives on the commission from RI supported that proposal.  The feeling was that proposal was going to be approved anyway.  “So RISAA submitted a proposal option that included a two fish conservation equivalency option with the stipulation that the reduction be 31% (the same level of harvest reduction that private anglers would be bound to with one at 28”) and include the elimination of the captain and mate fish.” said Medeiros.  Historically captains and mates have been allowed to take two fish on each trip. “Adding the mate and captain’s fish to the proposal would at least save four egg bearing fish each trip.” said Medeiros.
Throughout the week and at Monday’s meeting, many charter captains spoke out for and against the two fish charter and party boat options.  One of the proposals that had many heads nodding at the public hearing was made by Capt. Charlie Donilon of Snappa Charters.  Capt. Donilon said, “Something has to be done, everyone knows what’s going on out there, we have less and less fish.  I recommend that charter boats take 1.5 fish per customer and give up the two fish for the mate and captain.”
This proposal would have a great impact on the fish. Now a charter boat with six passengers, a mate and captain can take sixteen fish (this would still be the case with the RIPCBA proposal).  However, Captain Donilon’s proposal would have that same vessel taking a maximum of nine fish, just one more than a private boat of eight fishermen and the fish are 32” rather than 28”.  So in terms of conservation it could surpass the reduction value of the coastwide solution of one at 28”.

Other species discussed at the meeting

Even though RI overfished its quota of summer flounder, most at the meeting supported the status quo option of an 18” minimum size at eight fish/angler/day with the same season length.
Tautog support fell to status quo (the same as last year), 16” minimum size with split seasons… three fish in the spring and late summer seasons with a six fish bag limit in the fall (with a ten fish boat limit which does not apply to charter boats).

Rhode Island needs to reduce its black sea bass landings by one third.  The solution that received the most support was one that started the season as early in June as possible with one or two fish and then increased the number of fish to five or seven in the fall.  Both 13” and 14” fish should be considered.
More to come on these regulation options as they are reviewed and voted on by the RIMFC on March 2.

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