'The quicker they deplete the quota, the quicker we have to stop.'
FISHY BUSINESS: Seafreeze Ltd., in North Kingstown, is among the businesses concerned about out-of-state fishermen depleting the local fishing quota. Above, warehouse workers Andrew Terry, left, and Sam Fusco.
This past winter, Rhode Island fishermen made it clear new rules for dealing with the Atlantic herring stock were needed for state waters. They also demanded a say in the matter.
They will get their chance over the next few months when the R.I. Department of Environmental Management begins the process of developing new regulations it hopes will prevent the depletion of the local fishing quota by out-of-state fishermen.
The reassessment is a minor victory for the local fishermen, thanks in part to Rep. Teresa Tanzi, D-South Kingstown and Sen. James C. Sheehan, D-North Kingstown, who took heed when those at the port of Galilee expressed concern when large, out-of-state boats entered state waters in January. Using a fishing method called pair trawling – dragging a net between two parallel boats – the out-of-state fishermen harvested large amounts of the state’s herring stock during its seasonal peak. Adding insult to injury, they off-loaded their catch in New Bedford, using ancillary services there instead of in Rhode Island.
House members passed legislation sponsored by Tanzi to ban pair trawling in Rhode Island waters for the next year, until March 1, 2013, to provide time for the DEM to review regulations and hold public hearings. The measure failed to pass the Senate, however.
The fishing method has a high bycatch rate, reaping fish that were unintended to be caught. It also snags traps, fixed fishing equipment and sometimes – rather dangerously – other fishing vessels, creating a potential safety concern. According to fishermen, the state is one of the few places where pair trawling is allowed. Tanzi and the House believed this resulted in this year’s quota being depleted while generating little state income.
Meanwhile, the Senate passed Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski’s, D-South Kingstown, resolution requesting DEM to develop pair-trawl regulations, seeing that other Atlantic-coast states already have enacted new rules.
Robert Ballou, acting chief of DEM’s Division of Fish & Wildlife, agrees pair trawling needs to be addressed. “The overall issue of herring management, of which pair trawlers are a component, needs a thorough vetting to ensure we have a full sense of the Rhode Island community, so that we can look to carve out a management program that addresses all of the state’s interests. We need to get a sense on what our options might be and ultimately put forth some proposals, perhaps a series of options, so that there wouldn’t be one single way forward proposed but rather two or three options to address the issue,” he said.