Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Short-term Victory

Last week, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) issued emergency regulations to prohibit fishing for alewives and blueback herring in fresh and marine waters of the State. Save The Bay strongly supports this closure, and it is a strong first step toward conservation of these essential creatures of the estuary. Thanks again to all who wrote, called, and testified. It worked!

As spring arrives in Southern New England, it remains to be seen whether we will have a significant herring run this year. The first few reports of fish are trickling in, but it's time to get out and start scouting the streams to collect some data. If fishermen can't catch fish, we can all certainly be helpful by getting out there and participating in stream monitoring efforts to better estimate the populations and viability of the remaining runs.

BayKeeper intern Rick Tavis is helping Save The Bay set up an information network about Rhode Island's herring runs. Rick will help connect monitoring volunteers with their local streams, organizations, and DEM. Rick is also working to create a sister blog to this one where buckeye watchers can get news and information and report their observations on-line. The site is still under construction, but may be viewed here.

Feel free to e-mail questions or observations to me directly here. -JT

Friday, March 17, 2006

Still Saving The Herring

This week's public hearing on the herring regulations was both disturbing and encouraging. It was disturbing to hear the depth of concern, frustration, and emotion from those who attended. No one spoke against the proposed ban outright, though a few folks did the usual 'pointing to any other cause than fishing' routine. Mostly, there was just a sense of resignation and sadness that it has all come to this.

In another way, it was encouraging. Only a handful of people stood up to testify on the regs, but scores of people sent letters to DEM supporting the closure. You, the readers of this blog, provided nearly 70 letters of support from individuals and organizations who obviously care a great deal about this. It was also great to hear our old friends and partners in conservation stand up for what we all know is the right thing to do.

We are not done yet. DEM appears ready to implement the proposed ban in short order, and that agency deserves a great deal of credit for its prompt and courageous action on this. Still, we need to do more than stop the fishing of herring. We must continue to work hard to secure funding and committments for research into causes for the decline, monitoring, water quality restoration and fish passage projects. We must cultivate and empower our friends and allies on the Bay and in the fishing community to become active stewards of the resource.

We must never give up hope, for all is not lost. Yesterday, Taunton River warrior Tim Watts reported the arrival of the first few fish into the Nemasket. 2002 was actually a strong year-class for herring in the Bay, and those fish should be returning to spawn this year. With a ban firmly in place and troops of volunteers, agencies, and scientists working together to protect and restore these fish, this might be the beginning of the comeback. Let's make it so. -JT

Who Saves The Bay? The effort to protect river herring is part of Save The Bay's mission to protect, preserve and restore Narragansett Bay and its watershed. This work is made possible through the support of our members and others who care about the Bay's health and future. Please help by making a donation or becoming a Save The Bay member. Click here to learn how you can support Save The Bay.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Partners in Buckeye Conservation

Wow, Thank you all so much for your quick responses to Save The Bay's action-alert on herring (see previous blog). Your calls, e-mails, and letters are already making a difference.

Save The Bay is not alone on this. I want to recognize and applaud the efforts of a few of our partners. First, there is Steve Insana of Buckeye Brook Coalition (
website). No one has worked harder to save herring in Rhode Island and Steve was the first to call for the closure.

The Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers (
website) are also key to this effort. Their president, Steve Medeiros, has done a fantastic job educating anglers about the importance of conservation and has turned potential opponents of the ban into some of the state's greatest environmental stewards.

I also want to mention Conservation Law Foundation (
website). Not always popular in the fishing community, this potent legal advocacy group is springing into action on herring and we are proud to be their partners.

But, this is not an awards ceremony! We still have fish to save so write your letters and get out to the hearing! Any questions? E-mail me directly at
jtorgan@savebay.org . JT

Support The River Herring Ban

This coming Monday is a critically important meeting for River Herring (6PM 3/13/06 at Corless Auditorium, URI Bay Campus). As you may have read in a recent blog, populations of river herring in Rhode Island have crashed over the past 5 years. RIDEM observed decline of more than 95% across the board , with numbers dropping from the hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands since 2000.

At the hearing, DEM will take public comment on a proposed ban on all river herring possession, commercial and recreational, in marine and fresh waters of Rhode Island. The decline in river herring has been observed coast-wide, and this species is clearly in serious jeopardy. While we have made progress restoring water quality and building ladders and passage systems, the young herring are simply not returning from sea.

Why is this? Many different theories have been proposed to explain the decline including climate/water temperature shifts, overfishing, offshore intercepts of river herring in the Atlantic herring fishery, and illegal poaching to name a few. All of these theories are plausible and the answer may be a combination of many factors, but none of these theories has any real scientific support.

The only real option at this point is to close the fishery. This closure should include a comprehensive monitoring program. Save The Bay and the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers are calling for the formation of a special river herring committee, and for the state to provide an annual report and stock status. We are also working hard to promote river restoration and fish passage projects to open more habitat to the fish. If we don't take these steps immediately, river herring are in serious danger of disappearing forever.

If you want to help, send a letter to DEM supporting the proposed closure. A sample letter can be found
here. View the RIDEM press release here. Also feel free to e-mail me for more information at jtorgan@savebay.org. JT