Squeteague (or weakfish) caught by Mike Kwok from Palisades Park, NY while fishing the Frances Fleet. Squeteague, once a popular fish in RI, is coming back with more and more caught in recent years.
Fishing laws need to reflect climate change
Climate change continues to warm local waters with mounting proof that it is changing our fishing environment. Fishing is changing so much that warm water fish are moving into the northeast and cold water fish are moving to deeper cooler water.
If the environment is changing then our fishing laws, which all stem from the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) need to be updated to reflect these changes too. Our fishing laws are based on historical fishing and survey data (what fish were caught where) and what was true in the past may not necessarily be true today or tomorrow.
Climate change can have a positive, negative or neutral effect on species with different tolerances in any given geographic area. Over time we have seen in influx of warm water fish hear in our region, some of the changes have been good for fishing and some not so good.
In Rhode Island, more cobia (an exotic warm water fish) have been caught than ever before, enhanced summer flounder and black sea bass have moved into southern New England but yet we have seen a decline in cold water fish like cod.
Dr. Jonathan Hare, director of the National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Narragansett Laboratory, has long spoke about climate change and its impact on marine fisheries. Dr. Hare said that along the northeast continental shelf, “Since 1854 ocean temperatures have risen 1.3 to 2 degrees Fahrenheit.”
Dr. Hare has shared a time lapse illustration that showed how yellow-tail flounder and summer flounder (fluke) are actually migrating north toward Rhode Island and other northern coastal states as the water warms. This time lapse illustration uses catch and effort data supplied to NOAA by commercial fishermen as a condition of their license. The data and time lapse illustration showed fish leaving waters to the south and moving northward. Dr. Hare’s work provides proof of warming water and species movement in and out of our region.
In a recent article written by Ted Morgan of the PEW Charitable Trust, Morgan said, “Fish managers often develop fishing rules expecting that the same species will be found in roughly the same place every year. Setting catch limits for fishing requires some assumptions—and until recently, one of them has been that the vast ocean, while subject to cycles, is basically stable over time. But new information challenges that notion, as scientists and some policymakers have grown increasingly aware of long-term shifts in the ocean environment.”
Dr. Malin Pinsky of Rutgers University is a pioneer in using historical fishing trawl survey data collected by NOAA for years and looking at it differently. The data includes the fish caught in the trawl as well as latitudes, longitudes and the depths of each trawl. Once the historical fishing survey data base was built Dr. Pinsky and his team were able to pinpoint where fish populations were found—and if those locations changed over time. His work has been developed into an interactive application; it clearly shows movement of a variety of species in our region and can be found at http://oceanadapt.rutgers.edu/.
How can fishing laws change to reflect climate change?
We can do a lot to make sure our fishing laws and regulations reflect climate change. Our nation through NOAA is divided into seven regional fishery councils, in our area it is the New England Fishery Management Council. Ted Morton of PEW said, “Unfortunately, not all of the nation’s councils are having these important conversations (about climate change and fish movement) as they make decisions, because the law does not require them to practice this kind of modern management.
“When Congress next changes the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, lawmakers should call for each council to create fishery ecosystem plans—road maps that can help managers understand the environmental factors that influence their fisheries so they can account for them and make more informed decisions.” said Morton.
The Magnuson-Stevens Act is 40 years old and has been updated several times. It is now time for another update.
Striped bass fishing on Block Island
Capt. John Sheriff of Captain Sheriff’s Fishing Charters, LLC will give a RI Saltwater Anglers Association presentation on tips and techniques for catching striped bass with a focus on Block Island on Monday, November 30, 7:00 p.m. at the West Valley Inn, West Warwick. Non-members welcome with a $10 donation to the RISAA Scholarship Fund, RISAA members attend free. Dinner offered by the West Valley Inn between 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Visit www.risaa.org for information.
Where’s the bite
Tautog fishing continues to be strong. Stormy weather and dirty water did slow the number of angler trips last week but the water settled and anglers were out the fishing was good. Capt. Charlie Donilon of Snappa Charters said, “Black fish off Newport has been very good with our largest fish averaging 7 or 8 points and last week during the big blow we managed to fish off Narragansett with angels limiting out.” Ken Ferrara of Ray’s Bait & Tackle, Warwick said, “Things are slowing down in the Bay with a tautog bite weakening. Customers that went south this weekend to Beavertail and the Kettlebottom area off Jamestown as well as off Newport did pretty good catching tautog and a cod every now and then. I fished with Roger Tellier, secretary of the RISAA board of directors this weekend and he caught a 26” cod while fishing for tautog in the Seal Ledge are off Newport. Angler Chris Jalbert from South County said “Went Monday morning (last week). Most finicky/delicate bite of the season so far. I missed a TON of fish. We got our limit in 3-4 hours. Most fish 4-6#. Also got one of the biggest of our season - 10 plus pounds." "The tautog bite seems to be best in 80 feet of wae" “The tautog bite seems to be best in 70 to 80 feet of water with anglers till catching in lower water too. Fishing the edge of the Pinnacle off Narragansett at 70 feet, off Brenton Reef on the edges and areas at the mouth of the Sakonnet has been good." said Matt Conti of Snug Harbor Marian, South Kingstown. South Kingstown. Capt. Frank Blount, of the Frances Fleet, said, “Tautog fishing continued to be good even after a couple days off due to heavy southerly winds. Pool fish generally in the 8 to 11 pound range with many limit catches recorded. Tremendous amounts of short tog provided long lasting action in between the keepers. The sea bass have definitely become fewer but there has been a slight increase in the number of keeper cod fish being caught and more of them are gaff-worthy. In fact on a couple trips cod fish in the low teens took the pool honors of tautog trips.”
Cod fishing remained very strong, even in some areas close to shore this past week. Capt. Charlie Donilon of Snappa Charters said, “Last week we did very well with cod and sea bass south of Pt. Judith and southeast of Block Island. We caught 31 keeper cod, the best in years. We dropped anchor and it was like the way it used to be. We limited out on black sea bass too with 42 fish. It was definitely like the days of old. In fact, we had to just stop fishing. The largest cod were 10 and 11 pounds cod and 6 pound black sea bass.” Matt Conti of Snug Harbor Marina said, “Cod fishing has been good with angler’s dong well at the East Fishing Grounds, Cox’s Ledge and at Shark Ledge.”
Striped bass fishing has taken a back seat to tautog and cod fishing, however, anglers are catching migrating fish. “Schools of herring were off the southern coastal shore this week with garnets diving on them so I’m sure some are picking up bass feeding on the herring .” sad Matt Conti of Snug Harbor Marine.