Friday, February 17, 2006
River Herring Moratorium Proposed
About 30 people attended yesterday's public workshop to discuss the status of Rhode Island river herring stocks. RIDEM Biologists Mark Gibson, Phil Edwards, and Jason McNamee presented the most recent stock assessment, and it is grim.
Narragansett Bay's tributaries until recently supported hundreds of thousands of these fish, but populations region-wide are rapidly declining, and 2005 had some of the lowest counts ever recorded. The state's largest run, Gilbert Stuart, declined from 290,000 in 2000 to 17,000 in '04, a 95% decline in abundance. Other runs showed similar trends.
Most of the discussion was about why this is occurring, and no clear answers were evident. Theories such as climatic change, ocean-intercept fisheries, and changing predator/prey relationships were examined, but none has sufficient evidence to point to a primary cause.
The State of Rhode Island and Save The Bay have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years for herring restoration and water quality improvements. Apparently, fish that make it back to the Bay are spawning successfully. Many of the juveniles, however, are simply not returning.
Like Massachusetts and Connecticut, it is now all but certain that a total ban on possession of river herring will soon go into effect for Rhode Island's herring runs in both fresh and marine waters. Though recreational catches may seem insignificant in the big picture, any additional fishing pressure may drive river herring to extinction in the next 3 to 5 years.
DEM is proposing a total closure on the river herring fishery, and will be accepting comments on this up through a public hearing scheduled for Monday, March 13th. Save The Bay is working with the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association to develop a position and recommend a conservation strategy to RIDEM. Our goal is to conserve enough of these fish to allow them to be fished again sustainably. Unfortunately, that strategy will likely mean closing the fishery for at least a couple of years so the stocks can be better assessed and get a chance to spawn again. This may be our last chance to save this critical piece of the Narragansett Bay ecosystem.