Rhode Island waters are an informal jigsaw puzzle of oyster farms, territory for wild harvesting of shellfish, water-skiing areas, fishing spots and just plain beautiful water for boating or spectacular views.
“There’s no shellfish-management plan now,” said Azure Cygler, fisheries-extension specialist for the University of Rhode Island Coastal Resources Center and the Rhode Island Sea Grant program. She is coordinating development of the state’s first shellfish-management plan.
“This is part of the fabric of our lives in Rhode Island,” Cygler said last week. “People dig clams and eat oysters. We have fishermen, aquaculture leases, kayakers, sailors, wind surfers, kite surfers. Everyone is trying to share the space.”
The R.I. Department of Environmental Management and the Coastal Resources Management Council have varied responsibilities for regulations, water quality and aquaculture leases, but the variety of activities on the water has reached a tipping point that’s convinced environmental leaders the time has come for a comprehensive plan.
“One of the biggest issues is that we need better communication from users and scientists,” said Cygler. “We need to be involved with each other. It’s very unclear where the agencies cross roles, so we’re trying to be a force to clarify which agency has which role.”
Development of the shellfish-management plan began in January. Since then, three large public meetings and many smaller ones have been held to gather input. The stakeholders include wild-harvest fishermen, who are in informal groups who identify themselves as either east bay or west bay, said Cygler.
The restoration community, including groups like Save The Bay and The Nature Conservancy, are part of the process, as well as the Salt Ponds Coalition, recreational shellfishermen and commercial shellfishermen, she said.
“I think the plan is a good idea. It’s bringing out issues we believe will be good to address,” said Mike McGiveney, a fisherman for 32 years who is president of the 80-member Rhode Island Shellfishermen’s Association.
“We have been pushing the mapping aspect,” said McGiveney, a wild-harvester fisherman. “We think it’s important for regulators to understand what’s being done, everything from where people are putting lobster pots to directing people to the best places for aquaculture leases,” he said. “Someone might want an aquaculture lease in a place that’s highly used for recreation.”
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