Large Influx of Menhaden into Narragansett Bay Drawing Increased Number of Fishing Vessels to State’s Waters
PROVIDENCE – The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is advising the public that its Divisions of Law Enforcement (DLE) and Marine Fisheries (DMF) are closely monitoring activity in Rhode Island’s commercial menhaden fishery. This year’s spring migration of Atlantic menhaden has brought a large influx of the small bait fish into Rhode Island coastal waters and Narragansett Bay. As a result, there has been a marked increase in the number of fishing vessels and fishing activity in these waters.
Narragansett Bay is a designated Menhaden Management Area (MMA) where menhaden can reside for varying amounts of time until they begin their southward migration in the fall. During the period when menhaden reside in the MMA, numerous user groups have access to this fisheries resource. This includes commercial bait companies that fish for menhaden to provide bait for both recreational fishing interests and for the lobster fishery, and recreational fishermen who access the schools of menhaden directly and use them as bait for catching larger sport fish such as striped bass and bluefish.
“Rhode Island relies on Atlantic menhaden in various capacities, such as supporting commercial harvesters, recreational fisheries, and the Narragansett Bay ecosystem,” said Conor McManus, PhD, Chief of DEM’s Division of Marine Fisheries. “Through our Atlantic menhaden management program, which represents one of the most comprehensive plans for the species in the region, we have constructed a science-based program that strives for sustainable harvest while maintaining menhaden’s role in the Bay’s ecosystem services.”
To prevent local depletion of menhaden and ensure that a portion of the resource remains in the MMA for ecological services and for use by the recreational community, DMF administers an annual Atlantic menhaden monitoring program in the MMA. From May through November, a contracted spotter pilot surveys the MMA twice weekly to estimate the number of schools and total biomass of menhaden present. Biomass estimates, fishery landings information, computer modeling, and biological sampling information are used to open, track, and close the commercial menhaden fishery as necessary. DEM regulations require at least two million pounds of menhaden be in the MMA before the area shall be opened to the commercial fishery. If at any time the biomass estimates drop below 1.5 million pounds, or when 50 percent of the estimated biomass above the minimum threshold of 1.5 million pounds is harvested, the commercial fishery in the MMA is closed.
Commercial vessels engaged in the menhaden fishery in the MMA are required to abide by a number of other regulations including net size restrictions, call-in requirements to the DLE and DMF, vessel hold certifications, daily possession limits, permanently closed areas, and closure of the MMA on weekends and state holidays. The full menhaden regulations (section 3.22) can be found here. A map of the MMA can be found here on the DMF website. Anyone with questions should contact Nicole Lengyel Costa at DMF at 401-423-1940 or email@example.com.
For more information about DEM divisions and programs, visit www.dem.ri.gov. Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RhodeIslandDEM or on Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM) for timely updates.