STATE HOUSE – Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett) participated in a meeting this week that gave the local fishing industry an opportunity to speak up about local fisheries to the newly appointed top regional official from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
John K. Bullard, who was recently appointed to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Northeast Regional Office of the NMFS, visited Superior Trawl in Point Judith Monday for a “listening session,” one of many the former New Bedford, Mass., mayor is holding in ports throughout the NMFS Northeast region, which stretches from Maine to North Carolina. Bullard planned the session as a way to hear from local fishermen, scientists, environmentalists, seafood dealers and processors, the aquaculture industry and other members of the public about the challenges they are facing and their ideas about success.
Representative Tanzi, whose district includes the port of Galilee and who serves on a special legislative commission studying the potential opportunities in the development of port facilities in the state, attended the session to meet Bullard and to listen to the industry’s concerns. Also in attendance were by U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit.
One of the major themes raised at the session is that many in the industry believe National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is relying too heavily on its own scientific information to set catch limits and quotas. Fishermen have long been suspicious of this and want more of a role in fishery data collection and stock assessment work. Often, the limits are based on data that is many years old, they said, and may not have been very accurate even when it was compiled. Fisherman expressed interest in working with academic partners, NMFS, and state agencies. With government agencies facing budget cuts that limit their ability to perform better research, some stakeholders at the meeting suggested this type of co-operative research could achieve three important goals – cut costs, gather better data and build trust among the parties.
Another issue is that of predation of low-quota species such as dogfish devouring species like cod, flounder and squid – all high-value species for Northeast ports. Fishermen suggested there be a larger directed fishery for dogfish to keep their population in check. Fishermen expressed the need for flexibility and timeliness to respond to the fisheries ecosystem as a whole, not merely seeing these as single species in a vacuum.
Representative Tanzi said she appreciated the opportunity to meet Bullard and hear the concerns of the industry, and is particularly concerned with maintaining the infrastructure of local ports, specifically the many businesses that are necessary to make a port like Galilee fully functional.
“Rhode Island needs to take our fishing industry seriously. We have seen ports that fail to protect their infrastructure disappear, forcing the boats to leave, often to another state, and we cannot allow that to happen. Point Judith needs tonnage, not just token increases to keep the industry viable and the port competitive,” she said. “I’m relieved to see that the new head is someone who has lived the experience of protecting a port as an economic driver for a larger community. I think he gets it.”