September 13, 2011

Bills aimed at boosting fishing industry signed into law

STATE HOUSE – Three bills approved by the General Assembly this year to assist the fishing trade were signed into law today in a ceremony held at Salty Brine State Beach in Galilee, the center of the Ocean State’s fishing industry.

The bills are designed to give a marketing boost to local fishermen and small businesses; to discourage poaching of striped bass; and to clarify licensing requirements for commercial rod-and-reel fishing boats.

The first bill signed today by Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee creates the Rhode Island Seafood Marketing Collaborative, the purpose of which is to support local fishermen and small businesses and to encourage Rhode Islanders to use locally produced and harvested seafood. The bill (2011-S 997 and 2011-H 6259) was sponsored by Rep. Peter Martin (D-Dist. 75, Newport) and Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37 South Kingstown, New Shoreham), both of whom attended today’s ceremony.

“People would be surprised to learn that most fish caught in Rhode Island is shipped out of state and is not sold in local markets or restaurants. The Seafood Marketing Collaborative will research ways to change that,” said Senator Sosnowski, chairwoman of the Special Senate Task Force on Fisheries. “It will support and work closely with the Rhode Island fishing community to promote the marketing of local seafood.”

Said Representative Martin, “The seafood collaborative will bring all stakeholders to the table to preserve, protect and promote the local seafood industry. This group will work to eliminate any barriers that currently prevent the seafood industry from thriving locally.”

The governor also signed legislation (2011-S 0972 and 2011-H 5693) that strengthened the penalties for those who catch more than the legal limit on striped bass or try to bag those that are too small. The move brings the striper penalties in line with those for violating other game limits, and is aimed at preventing poachers – whether fishing commercially or recreationally – from skirting limits for their own profit at the peril of the striper population. The striped bass is Rhode Island’s state fish.

“Striped bass are large, valuable saltwater fish, and there’s money to be made by those who catch them. And that’s good for Rhode Island, as long as people abide by the limits that are imposed to sustain the population. But the penalties we’ve had for stripers really aren’t a deterrent for those who want to ignore the rules and make a few bucks,” said Representative Palumbo (D-Dist. 16, Cranston), the bill’s House sponsor, who attended the event.

“The penalties for violating the striped bass limits need to be high because the market is such that a minor fine isn’t going to serve as a disincentive. For the health of our fisheries and the sake of sustaining the striped bass population for everyone for recreation and commercial uses, Rhode Island needs to deal seriously with poachers,” said Senator McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick), the bill’s Senate sponsor.

The third bill signed today (2011-S 0999aa and2011-H 6205B) authorizes unlicensed rod-and-reel fishermen, serving as crew, to assist licensed commercial rod and reel fishermen in direct commercial (finfish) harvest operations. The legislation allows commercial rod-and-reel fishermen to operate in a manner similar to commercial fishermen employing other harvesting methods, and thus affords equity to the rod-and-reel sector of the commercial fishing industry. The legislation, requested by the Department of Environmental Management, clarifies what the department said was unclear language in previous statute, which appeared to bar any non-licensed rod-and-reel fisherman from serving as a crew member of a fishing boat. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Peter Martin (D-Dist. 75, Newport) and Sen. James C. Sheehan (D-Dist. 36, North Kingstown, Narragansett), both of whom attended today’s signing.

Also participating today was Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett) who represents Galilee and created the Port of Galilee Task Force this year through a House resolution. Representatives of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and the state’s marine fisheries community were also present.