Monday, February 9, 2015

Winter meeting sets table for RI fishing regulations

Students enhance navigation, seamanship and boating skills at U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary classes.

Winter meeting sets table for RI fishing regulations

 The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) winter meeting being held in Alexandria, Virginia this week will finalize many fishery management plan (FMP) recommendations for a variety of species we fish for in Rhode Island.  The ASMFC develops management plans and regulations for summer flounder (fluke), winter flounder, Atlantic menhaden, striped bass, black sea bass, scup and other species that travel up and down the east coast.

Robert Ballou, one of Rhode Island’s ASMFC commissioners from the RI Department of Environmental Management (DEM), said at an input meeting held in RI last week, “We had representation from the for-hire charter captains and private recreational anglers.  Interest was high on the striped bass agenda item; particularly the for-hire (charter and party boats) industry conservation equivalency proposal.” 

 The ASMFC approved one fish at a 28” minimum size for recreational anglers coastwide at their last meeting in 2014, this represented a 31% reduction in harvest.  The 2013 striped bass stock assessment determined that the female spawning stock biomass (SBB) has continued to decline since 2004 and is estimated at 128 million pounds just above the SSB threshold of 127 million pounds, and below the SSB target of 159 million pounds. So something had to be done to curtail harvest.  Last year anglers could take two fish at 28”.  

The ASMFC also approved a conservation equivalency plan accepting state proposals that aim to reduce the number of fish taken by 25%.  Capt. Rick Bellavance, president of the RI Party & Charter Boat Association said, “Our proposal for two fish at 32” (a 27% decrease in harvest) is above the 25% reduction threshold for conservation equivalency plans.”  Bellavance said “We need two fish at 32” to insure customers continue to fish on our vessels.”

The ASMFC’s striped bass technical committee related options provided to reduce fish landings by 25% only have a 50% chance of working.  They only have a 50% chance working because the technical committee developing options were concerned that if reductions were too severe or too conservative that they would be harmful to the social and economic well being of those harvesting striped bass for a living (quotas for commercial striped bass fishermen have also been reduced by 25%).

Many private recreational anglers are advocating for one fish for all recreational anglers and others say that any conservation equivalency plan for the for-hire charter and party industry should achieve a least a 31% reduction.  Robert Ballou said, “We along with our neighboring states (CT, MA, NY) are on the same page with a two fish solution for the for-hire industry that will be the same for all.” 

Last week ten bait & tackle shops in Rhode Island expressed their concern over the support ASMFC representatives have given the 27% RI Party & Charter Boat Association proposal. The letter said, “We urge you to maintain the 31% harvest reduction your public demanded.  If you consider a “two fish” option the recreational anglers of Rhode Island would ask the charter boat captains and mates contribute to reducing mortality by not taking their recreational share while on a “for-hire” trip (presently captains and mates are allowed to take two fish each on charter trips).  This will help mitigate the negative impacts of a continued harvest of two reproducing females by each of their paying customers.”

The ten bait and tackle shops that signed the letter included The Saltwater Edge,  Watch Hill Outfitters, Quaker Lane Outfitters, Ocean State Tackle, The Tackle Box,  Breachway Bait & Tackle, Block Island Fishworks, Cardinal Bait & Tackle, Pete’s Bait & Tackle, and Quonny Bait & Tackle.

Summer flounder (fluke) data shared at a January ASMFC input meeting showed that RI overfished last year and more conservative regulations may be on the way. In 2014 the projected harvest was 126,724 fish and through Wave 5 RI’s share of the regional harvest was 181,601 fish.

Travis Barrio, RISAA board member and ASMFC summer flounder advisory panel member said “We are advocating for adaptive regional management like last year allowing Rhode Island to be separate and not making it accountable for fish caught in other regions along with guidelines for one year rather than two.” Capt. Rick Bellavance, president of the RIPCBA said, “Combining with others could reduce our (recreational) bag limit, enhance our minimum size and shorten our season.” 

Atlantic menhaden’s management plan recommendations are also in dispute pitting recreational anglers against the interests of the commercial Atlantic menhaden fishery.  A recent 2015 stock assessment indicates the species is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring.

However, Wild Oceans’ president Ken Hinmand said “Some in the menhaden industry would have you believe it (the new assessment) means there are plenty of fish out there; that there’s no need for catch limits now, including those put in place two years ago… (However)  the concern of anglers and environmentalists about the status of menhaden has always been about its vital role as a prey species for predators up and down the east coast (like striped bass, blue fish, tuna, etc.). So it’s important to understand that this latest evaluation of the menhaden stock addresses only its ability to sustain harvest and avoid depletion, not its capacity to provide adequate forage for other species in the ecosystem. In this way it’s no different than every other assessment performed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission since 1999, when an expert review panel recommended future assessments use a reference point responsive to menhaden as a forage species…which maximizes population abundance. Unfortunately, that change in the way we judge the status of Atlantic menhaden is still on the ASMFC’s “to-do” list 15 years later.”
Black sea bass is still problematic for the ASMFC.  A new stock assessment is not scheduled to be available for use by fish mangers until 2016. Present data indicates that anglers are overfishing quotas yet private and commercial fishermen claim there are an abundance fish in our local waters. 

Black sea bass 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 need to take climate change into account when developing plans.

Unfortunately, we will have to wait until 2016 for the new stock assessment to play a role in managing black sea bass.  For now, in 2015, recreational bag limits, fishing seasons and minimum sizes will likely be more conservative.

Visit the ASMFC website for this week’s meeting agenda, supplemental meeting material and news at 

Rhode Island will hold a 4:30 p.m. workshop and 7:00 p.m. public meeting on Monday, February 16 to discuss how ASMFC regulations will impact specie management plans and recreational fishing in Rhode Island.  Anglers are urged to attend. Once reviewed by the Rhode Island Marine Fisheries Council and approved by DEM director Janet Coit, these will become saltwater fishing regulations for 2015.

Visit for State Park winter fun ideas (ice fishing, skating, cross county skiing and more).  Also see information on boating, sailing and navigation skill courses being offered by the U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary this winter.

Where’s the bite
Ice fishing (and skating) is taking place on some ponds in Northern Rhode Island.  Check with recreational departments in cities and towns for safe ice conditions.  For lakes and ponds in state parks call the DEM ice information telephone line at 401-667-6222.

Cod fishing is still on but party boats have been unable to sail due to bad weather conditions.  

Captain Dave Monti has been fishing and shell fishing on Narragansett Bay for over 40 years.  He holds a captain’s master license and a charter fishing license. Contact or forward fishing news and photos to Capt. Dave at or visit his website at  

Now is the time to sharpen your boating and navigation skills

The Coast Guard Auxiliary is once again offering some outstanding boating courses to help boaters develop and/or sharpen their skills.  Local Flotilla’s, which is the basic organizational unit of the Auxiliary,  are offering courses in a number of locations. 

This winter the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary North Star Flotilla of Warwick is offering three courses starting this week at Toll Gate High School (building B), 575 Centerville Road, Warwick.  With all the snow we have been getting it is important to note that if Warwick Schools are canceled, then the boating classes are CANCELLED. The courses include Boating Skills & Seamanship, Sailing Skills & Seamanship and Navigation (Beginning & Advanced).  The Power ($85) and Sail ($105) classes meet twice a week on Monday and Thursday for eight weeks. The navigation class meets Thursdays for 15 weeks and the cost is $160, the first three weeks for beginners is $45 and the rest of the course (advanced navigation) is $115. 

 Courses, originally scheduled to start Monday will now start Thursday, February 5 at 7:00 p.m.  It is not too late to register as classes are taught in module style.  Students can park in back behind the school by the football field.

You can visit the Flotilla’s web site at or call Capt. Nick Butziger at 401.739.6028.

DEM urges all to enjoy State parks
The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is encouraging children, families and individuals to get outdoors and enjoy the recreational resources that Rhode Island state parks and management areas have to offer.  Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, snowmobiling and ice fishing are among the many outdoor activities that residents and visitors can experience at state parks and recreation areas across Rhode Island. 

Ice Fishing
DEM's Division of Fish & Wildlife has stocked about 3,000 trout in ponds throughout Rhode Island for the winter fishing season.   Locations include Carbuncle Pond, Coventry; Olney Pond, Lincoln; Barber Pond, South Kingstown; Silver Spring Lake, North Kingstown; Upper Melville Pond, Portsmouth; Meadowbrook Pond, Richmond; and Round Top Ponds, Burrillville. 

Fish & Wildlife staff routinely clears the parking lots at many fishing and hunting access areas in the winter, including the upper and lower lots at Browning Mill Pond in Arcadia Management Area, Tefft Hill, Frosty Hollow Road, and Breakheart Pond.

DEM reminds fishers that ice on the ponds must have a uniform thickness of at least six inches before it is considered safe.

Ponds not suitable for skating
At press time, the ice at monitored areas at Lincoln Woods State Park in Lincoln, Goddard Memorial State Park in Warwick, and Meshanticut State Park in Cranston is unsuitable for skating at the present time. For the latest information on ice conditions at these three locations, call DEM's 24-hour Ice Information telephone line, 401-667-6222.

Residents should contact their local recreation departments regarding skating opportunities and conditions in individual communities.  Ice must have a uniform thickness of at least six inches before it is considered safe.  DEM has an ice safety guide that can be found online at website, .

Cross-country Skiing and Snowshoeing
The Department is reporting good snow conditions for cross-country skiing at Pulaski Memorial Recreation Area in Glocester.  Due to deep snow conditions, the trails have been partially tracked and all routes are open.  DEM's Division of Parks and Recreation maintains four one-way loop ski trails at Pulaski, ranging from less than one mile to four miles long. The management area's 10 miles of tracked trails offer beginner and expert cross-country skiers a variety of terrain on which to ski. For example, the half-mile long Pulaski trail has several small inclines and stays close to the start point. The three other trails – Hemlock Glen trail, Covered Bridge trail, and Woods trail – cover longer distances, and each has some downhill terrain.

While Pulaski Memorial Recreation Area is the only state facility offering tracked ski trails, Colt, Goddard, and Lincoln Woods State Parks and state management areas, including Arcadia in Exeter and Big River in West Greenwich offer open areas where patrons can enjoy snow-related recreational activities. 
All users of state management areas are reminded that they must wear 200 square inches of fluorescent orange material -- equivalent to a hat or cap -- during the hunting season which ends on February 28.

George Washington Management Area in Glocester provides designated trails for those operating snowmobiles. Snowmobiling is also permitted on the roadways in Arcadia, Burlingame, Wickaboxet and Woody Hill Management Areas, Burlingame State Park and Campground, Lincoln Woods State Park, Snake Den State Park, and on open fields at Colt State Park. All snowmobiles must be registered by DEM's Office of Licensing and Registration, located at 235 Promenade Street in Providence.

Regulations regarding snowmobile use in state parks and management areas are available online at .

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