Tuesday, January 31, 2006

LNG Terminal Proposed for Long Island Sound

While the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) debate rages on Narrgansett Bay over the proposed facilities in Providence (Keyspan) and Fall River (Weaver's Cove), a new proposal for an offshore LNG terminal surfaced Monday for neighboring Long Island Sound (see New London's The Day). I know that my brother Keeper over there, Long Island SoundKeeper Terry Backer has taken heat for supporting such a facility on his Sound. I really don't have a dog in that fight, but I admire Terry for taking a stand to promote solutions rather than just opposing everything.

The proposal for Long Island Sound raises important issues. Offshore siting of LNG terminals vastly reduces or eliminates safety and security risks to populated areas, but they may cost more and cause more direct environmental damage. Save The Bay's work on LNG issues in Narragansett Bay has focused on the environmental impacts associated with dredging and filling in estuaries, as well as impacts to uses of the Bay and development of sensible alternatives. Rhode Island and Massachusetts officials across the board from the Governors of both states to the Congressional Delegations have opposed siting LNG terminals in populated areas based on safety and security concerns. Shoreline communities across the Bay have weighed in, but will the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and US Administration listen? The debate is heating up.

Check out Save The Bay's Advocacy Resources page, Here, to read two important LNG Studies available for download, The Sandia National Laboratories report, and the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission reports.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Atlantic Herring Stirring up Bay Life

This week, staff and visitors to the Save The Bay Center at Field's Point in Providence have been treated to great winter wildlife watching. Massive flocks of common mergansers have been surrounding and herding fish near the surface where gulls and other birds are picking them off. Harbor seals have been in close as well, presumably chasing the same fish.

I haven't laid my hands on one yet, but watching through the spotting scope, I am fairly confident that these small silver fish are Atlantic herring, (clupea harengus). Unlike the blueback herring and alewives that migrate into the Bay's rivers in April and May, Atlantic herring are not anadromous- they spend their whole lives in the sea. Narragansett Bay is near the southern range of these fish, and they tend to appear during our coldest months. A great resource website on Atlantic herring is the
Gulf of Maine Research Institute

A friend reported seeing numerous whales yesterday from the Block Island ferry, probably feeding on the same herring. Their arrival in the Bay has brought may more seals, as well as a wide variety of seabirds and waterfowl. If you haven't done it yet, take your family seal watching on Save The Bay's Aletta Morris out of Newport. See the schedule at
Seal Watching

I have been wondering what the resident stripers in the Providence River are eating. My minnow trap at Save The Bay was crushed during a storm last week, but in recent weeks I have been catching lots of sevenspine shrimp (a sand shrimp), and a few mummichogs, juvenile tautog, cunner, and stickleback. It's nothing like the massive schools of menhaden, silversides, and anchovies we see in summer, but there seems to be enough around to support thriving life through the winter. Perhaps the river populations range out into the Bay to forage on the Atlantic herring? Or do the sea herring make it all the way into Providence? I'll see what I can find out.

More to come on this... JT

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Wintering Striped Bass

Many readers were surprised by the presence of over-winter striped bass in the Providence River. This is a relatively a recent phenomena observed since the mid-1990's, and may be related to a number of important changes in the Bay environment.

Striped bass in Narragansett Bay are known to spawn in the Hudson River and Chesapeake Bay esturies and to migrate seasonally along the East Coast. Bright fish from the Atlantic typically arrive on the Rhode Island Coast in April following the runs of alewives and blueback herring. In spring the stripers are abundant in the bay and its tributary rivers, feeding on menhaden, herring, squid, anchovies, and other forage species.

In the heat of summer, most stripers move to deeper colder water off Rhode Island's south coast and Block Island. In late summer and Fall they move back into the Bay, most staying until October or November before migrating south along the coast again. Most migrate, but not all.

Thousands of striped bass are known to winter in the cooling water canal of Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Massachusetts. Other winter populations in the Northeast tend to be associated with the warm outflows of power plants including the ones I found last week near the Manchester Street Station in downtown Providence. Others apparently stay in the Narrow River in Narragansett, where there are no warm water flows. A massive population now winters in the Thames River in Connecticut, upriver from the Millstone nuclear power plant.

After reading many reports about the Thames River fish, my wife Jillian and I took a ride to Norwich, CT on Sunday. In the harbor downtown, and all along the river, dozens of boats and hundreds of anglers braved ice and January temperatures to find them. It looked like a scene out of a cable TV bass fishing show, only colder. (No, I didn't fish because I don't have my '06 CT freshwater license yet!).

None of these striped bass wintering populations have been accurately counted or even estimated. Very little good scientific or natural history information is available. Striped bass is a great conservation success story, as populations coastwide have made a significant comeback since the lows of the mid 1980's thanks to better fisheries management, habitat protection, and improved water quality. Water temperature, and everything related to it, is probably a major factor in the increasing winter populations. Milder winters and warm-water flows have allowed stripers and the creatures they feed on to survive and even thrive in the Bay in winter.

It's not just stripers. The populations and assemblage of fish and other marine life is clearly shifting in Narragansett Bay from colder water species like flounder and cod to more temperate species like striped bass and sand shrimp. Is it global climate change? Natural cycles? We'll talk more about the Bay's overall fish populations in an upcoming post. JT

Thursday, January 19, 2006

FERC Upholds Earlier LNG Rulings

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) today denied rehearing requests from both Keyspan and Weaver’s Cove LNG and opponents of the proposed projects, leaving the decisions made at the July 15th FERC meeting to stand.

FERC Chair Joseph T. Kelliher explained that the Weaver’s Cove project, in Fall River, meets current federal safety standards as proposed. The Keyspan project, proposed for Providence, does not. He further explained that the removal of the Brightman Street Bridge is not a FERC condition for the approval of the Weaver’s Cove Project and therefore should not prohibit authorization of the project.

Commissioner Suedeen Kelly dissented, voting against Weaver’s Cove. Kelly argued that other planned LNG facilities in the region and in Canada are expected to come on-line soon and make Weaver’s Cove unnecessary. She also explained that the environmental impacts to the Taunton River would be significant, particularly the dredging and dredge disposal issues.

Chairman Kelliher explained that safety issues are the primary focus of the FERC review, and that FERC is ruling narrowly on issues of safety.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

More on Striped Bass Disease

Thanks to those who have already called and written on this. After a bit more research, my best diagnosis of the sick stripers I caught is something called lymphocystis, a condition in fish that includes yellow and white slimy growth. Lymphocystis is a viral infection, but is less serious than it sounds. It typically does not kill the fish, and is associated with environmental stresses like temperature and crowding.

Coincidentally, there was a story on NPR today on this subject. Take a

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Sick Stripers

If you read the 'Welcome' entry, you saw pictures of the diseased striped bass I caught yesterday in the Providence River.

I don't know exactly what was wrong with them, but my theory is that these fish have Ulcerative Dermatitis Syndrome (UDS). UDS is a condition that has been observed in non-migratory stripers in the Chesapeake Bay since the mid-1990's, and is characterized by multiple lesions and sores.(Source.) It is often associated with degraded water quality and poor quality forage (little or no food). Fish get scraped up by nets, fishtraps, or power plant intakes, and then are rendered more susceptible to infection. These poor habitat conditions certainly exist in the Providence River in winter, though UCS is not officially known to occur in Narragansett Bay.

Another disease that affects Striped Bass in the Chesapeake, mycobacteriosis, is much more serious in that it kills the fish it infects, and can be transmitted to people (called fish-handler's disease, Yikes!). I don't think these fish had that, though, based on all the descriptions of mycobacteriosis that I've read.

Here's another good article you might find of interest from the Stripers Forever Web site.

If you think you know what this disease is, or have seen fish with this condition in Narragansett Bay, please write me and let me know. I am sending my pictures and descriptions to some fish pathology experts and will let you know what I find out.

I'll be tackling the issue of over-wintering stripers in an upcoming entry. Stay tuned... JT

Important LNG Decisions Thursday

This Thursday, the 19th, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), will be meeting in Washington, D.C. at 10AM. Among topics on the agenda are the Weaver's Cove LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) project in Fall River and the Keyspan LNG project proposed for Providence.

The meeting will be webcast for free at www.ferc.gov. The meeting notice may be viewed at http://www.ferc.gov/EventCalendar/Files/20060112172506-CA01-19-06.pdf

Save The Bay is an intervenor in these proceedings. We are monitoring them closely, and will be ready to respond and report to you this Thursday with any breaking developments. See Save The Bay's website for more info on LNG www.savebay.org.


Monday, January 16, 2006

Welcome to the BayKeeper Blog

Hello all stations! I am excited about this new feature of Save The Bay's website. This blog will help me bring you all the important and interesting news and information about Narragansett Bay as it happens.

I planned to begin these entries with a description of life on and in the Bay this Martin Luther King Day, January 16th, 2006. It was 23 degrees F around midday, with a howling cold northwest wind. My wife, Jillian, headed to the movies with a friend, and I took the opportunity to do some frostbite fishing in the Providence River.This is not glamorous fishing, but I do enjoy flipping home-tied flies and light spinning tackle for the winter resident striped bass and occasional white perch near the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier. There are actually quite a few hardcore characters who fish the river through the depths of winter, but that's another story.

Today I had it all to myself, except for the gulls, cormorants, and a group of hooded mergansers all fishing in the narrow channel on a low falling tide. While the fishing here is always hit-or-miss, especially in winter, I caught seven striped bass in about two hours. The first couple of fish came up clean and bright looking, but two of the seven I caught were covered with infected sores and lesions and had rotting tails. That is the subject of my next blog...

The last fish I caught was the biggest I have ever gotten in the river in winter, about 31 inches, and it had no signs of disease. While it is technically a legal fish to keep, I obviously released it. It's great to catch anything in winter, but I am disturbed by the diseased fish. What does this say about the condition of the Bay? Check out my next entry...