April 11, 2017 — Fishing has long been a staple industry in Rhode Island. Over the last century ever more local seafood is shipped across the country and the globe. Now, fishermen are working to grow the local market in the face of changing regulations and technology.
The Pawtucket indoor farmer’s market is bustling on a recent Saturday morning. Among the rows of vendors selling veggies, eggs, and homemade soaps is the Local Catch – purveyor of locally caught seafood. Laid out over shaved ice are fish like dabs, a type of flounder, John Dory, and Monkfish. It’s all readily available in local waters. Yet Rhode Islanders might be hard-pressed to find them in a neighborhood grocery store.
“Before we started the Local Catch I fished for about 35 years with my own boat,” said Local Catch owner Richard Cook. “We went to a couple fish markets at Stop and Shops and stuff like that and nobody had any local fish it was all from Alaska and China and all over the place.”
So Cook is working to grow local demand for a wider variety of fish. And that could benefit thousands of workers. The state supported some 5,000 commercial fishing jobs as recently as 2012, according the State Department of Environmental Management. That same DEM report found the state did $200 million dollars in commercial sales that year. Cook says that number could be higher, but fishermen are struggling with catch limits. Those are imposed by state and federal officials to protect the health of certain fish species.
One of the more popular local fish, cod has a catch limit of 1,000 pounds per boat, per day. So Cook and others are hoping other fish like scup will catch on. Scup – also known as porgy – can be found in Rhode Island waters, but has a catch limit of 50,000 pounds per boat per day.
April 10, 2017 — An effort to gain better control over the amount of participation in the East Coast squid fishery will be the subject of a series of public hearings this spring.
The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council wants to reduce latent permits for certain kinds of squid. Most years, a few vessels are responsible for bringing the majority of the commercially harvested squid to shore.
The fishery council says it’s concerned that excessive squid fishing could occur if latent permits become active.
Longfin squid fishing’s a major industry, with more than 26 million pounds coming to shore in 2015. It was valued at more than $31 million. Rhode Island’s the biggest producer.
March 27, 2017 — North America’s largest seafood trade event brought suppliers and buyers from around the world together in one place two weeks ago. But it was New Bedford’s waterfront that was the talk of the event, and not because of the city’s seafood.
Whispers about the theft of 8,350 pounds of U10 scallops in New Bedford were on many lips at the March 11-13 seafood expo. The scallops disappeared from a Continental Cold Storage facility in the city and were discovered missing in February.
Exactly when the scallops were stolen and how is still unknown. Valued at up to $192,050, they were packed in 25 pound boxes, filling 336 cases on four pallets, and were believed to be transported by a single truck, according to police documents. An additional 24 cases of U12 scallops were later determined to also be missing.
An investigation by New Bedford police is ongoing.
“Everybody has bits and pieces, but nobody has the whole story,” said a New Bedford seafood executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case remains an active police investigation.
Some of the facts behind the mystery appear in more than 50 pages of court documents obtained and reviewed by The Standard-Times surrounding the arrest warrants of Antonio Vieira, of 74 Morning Dove Drive in Tiverton, Rhode Island, and Michael Caton, formerly a resident of Riverside, Rhode Island, but currently living at 17923 Applegate Road in Applegate, California.
March 24, 2017 — It was the best single run of longfin squid anyone on the East Coast had ever seen – and it happened fast and was over fast. In two months last summer, June and July, the East Coast-based squid fleet landed approximately 14 million pounds, with Rhode Island landing more than 50 percent of that quota, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration landing reports.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. The squid just kept coming,” said Point Judith fisherman Jeff Wise of Narragansett. “I’ve never seen volume and catch rates that high before.”
For those two summer months, the fishing port of Point Judith, or Galilee, was the squid capital of the world, the hub of squid commerce. Shore-side activity went nonstop as processors and others tried to keep pace with the volume of squid the fishing vessels carried in from the sea. Approximately 118 vessels, according to state landing reports, from as far south as Wanchese, N.C., used Rhode Island ports to offload their catch.
Although June and July are traditionally peak squid months, with average summer landings (May through August) fluctuating between 3 million and 19 million pounds, it was the high catch rates for those two months that was unprecedented last summer, which for the season saw 18.7 million pounds of landings.
“Though we’ve been seeing an upward trend in [longfin] squid since 2010, [last year was] one of the strongest we’ve seen since the 1990s,” said Jason Didden, squid-management-plan coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, the agency, along with the National Marine Fisheries Service, responsible for squid policy.
Local fishermen, many of whom depend heavily on squid, enjoyed the bounty but are warily focused on regulatory issues they fear could bring the good times to a premature end.
Landings the past 30 years have shown peaks and valleys, as levels of squid abundance have changed – but there has been no need for quota cuts.
The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council often works with advisory panels to identify problems within fisheries and to come up with solutions to those problems. It’s a long road, complex and full of red tape, to go from an identified fishery problem to an actual change in the policy. These advisory panels are composed of industry members, recreational anglers, environmentalists and academics.
Three policy issues surfaced in recent months that could affect Rhode Island squid vessels and processors. One concerns managing the number of squid permits allowed, an issue perennially raised by the commercial fishing industry. The other two concern the possible loss of fishing ground – one by proposed wind farms off Long Island, and the other from lobbying pressure for a buffer zone in a key squid area south of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.
The buffer-zone issue was raised by a group of recreational fishermen from Nantucket.
“It’s hard to be optimistic right now,” said Wise. “It never seems to stop – we are constantly worried about losing fishing ground [due to] buffer zones, marine sanctuaries and wind farms.”
March 23, 2017 — Bay State lobstermen fear that a new proposal — meant to save lobsters in warming southern New England waters — could hurt business by barring them from harvesting in prime summer months and putting tighter restrictions on the size of their catch.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will present a plan in New Bedford tonight on ways to maintain or increase the number of lobsters in waters from southern Massachusetts to Delaware.
“Over the last 15 years we’ve seen a decline in lobster abundance, and we think that’s by and large a response to warming ocean temperatures,” said Dan McKiernan, deputy director of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries.
“That’s the challenge that we have — it’s trying to preserve lobster but doing it in a way that the industry can survive,” he added.
Yet Massachusetts lobstermen argue that their pots are full and don’t see what the fuss is all about.
“Southern New England as a whole is not doing very well, but where we are, it’s doing pretty well,” said lobsterman Jarrett Drake, who has lobstered out of New Bedford for more than 30 years.
The plan ropes in Massachusetts waters south of Cape Cod in with states like Rhode Island and as far away as New Jersey, where lobster populations are extremely low. It considers banning lobstering from July to September — peak tourist months for restaurants — as well as new restrictions on the size of lobsters fishermen can keep, and how long their traps can stay in the water.
February 17, 2017 — Interstate fishing managers have scheduled two of seven hearings on a plan to try to save southern New England lobsters in Connecticut.
Lobster fishing in places like Connecticut and Rhode Island dates back centuries, but the stock has dwindled as water temperature has warmed. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is working on a plan to slow decline.
The commission’s plan includes strategies such as changing the legal harvesting size limit for lobsters, reducing the number of traps allowed in the water and enforcing new seasonal closures.
February 7, 2017 — The following was released by the New England Fishery Management Council:
Due to inclement weather, the New England Fishery Management Council has RESCHEDULED its Narragansett, RI scoping hearing on Amendment 5 to the Northeast Skate Complex Fishery Management Plan. The new hearing date is Monday, Feb. 27.
The hearing initially was planned to take place this Thursday, Feb. 9. However, the National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Watch for eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island with potential snow accumulations of 8” to 12”. Given the forecast, the Council determined it was best to prevent unnecessary travel.
The Feb. 27 hearing will take place from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography in the Coastal Institute Building’s Hazard Room.
Copies of the revised hearing notice, scoping document, and other Amendment 5 materials are available at skates.
January 27, 2017 — KINGSTON, R.I. — In a packed auditorium at University of Rhode Island on Jan. 17, foodies of every variety converged at the Rhode Island Food System Summit to talk about food production, distribution, economic policies and more.
The 350-person gathering was part of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s development of the state’s first comprehensive food strategy to support the local food economy. The strategy is a five-year action plan that will leverage key components of Rhode Island’s food system: agriculture and fisheries, economic development, and health and access.
As part of the governor’s plan, Sue AnderBois was hired as the state’s first director of food strategy in June 2016. Her job responsibilities include creating policy for every aspect of the state’s food system — from farm to market to table. Her position will be funded for two years by grants from the Henry P. Kendall Foundation, the John Merck Fund and Main Street Resources.
The plan’s goals also include alleviating food insecurity and hunger among state residents, making food production more accessible, creating and growing markets for Rhode Island food products, prioritizing environmental and economic sustainability and creating a positive economic climate for food-related businesses.
January 19, 2017 — WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse quizzed President-elect Trump’s nominee for Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency about his support for Rhode Island fishermen.
During Senate hearins today, Whitehouse asked Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt if “he would support the fishing and aquaculture industries in the face of climate change, and whether he would protect Rhode Islanders from out-of-state polluters.”
“As we discussed when you and I met, the oceans off our Ocean State are warming due to fossil fuel-driven climate change,” said Whitehouse. “It is crashing our fisheries, like lobster and winter flounder, and making earning a living harder for our fishermen. I see nothing in your career to give those fishermen any confidence that you will care one bit for their well-being, and not just the well-being of the fossil fuel industry.”