NARRAGANSETT, RI — Today, U.S. Senator Jack Reed was joined by U.S. Representative Jim Langevin, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit, and local fisherman in pushing for legislation to give Rhode Island a seat at the table of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC), a regional management board that establishes fishery management rules for stocks primarily caught in federal waters adjacent to the mid-Atlantic coast. The Rhode Island Fishermen’s Fairness Act, which Senator Reed authored and will soon reintroduce in the U.S. Senate, and Congressman Langevin will introduce in the House, would add Rhode Island to the list of seven states with voting representation on the council.
Currently, Rhode Island is a member of the New England Fishery Management Council, which oversees groundfish such as cod, flounder, and haddock. But the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council is responsible for managing squid, as well as other species like mackerel and butterfish. And while Rhode Island’s fishermen annually catch about 17.5 million pounds of squid, over half of all squid landings in the Northeast, it does not currently have formal representation on the management council.
“Mid-Atlantic regulated stocks now represent the majority of landings for Rhode Island commercial fishermen. It is time that our state has formal representation on the council for the fishery where so many of our fishermen make a living,” said Reed, who has been pushing this issue since 2006. “This is an issue of fairness. Our fishermen haul in more squid than any other state, but they don’t have as much of a voice on management as some states that don’t even fish for squid. There is simply a lack of appropriate representation on the council. That needs to change.”
“Rhode Island’s fishing industry has long been a central part of our economy and our heritage. Local fishermen deserve to have a seat at the table when decisions are made affecting their jobs, and I’m proud to join Senator Reed in supporting this important legislation,” said Senator Whitehouse.
“Our fishing industry is a vital part of Rhode Island's heritage and economy, and the decisions of the Mid-Atlantic Council directly affect the ability of our fishermen to maintain their businesses,” said Langevin. “It's critical for the future of our fishing industry that our state has a fair say on the Council.”
“On behalf of the state’s marine fishing community, the Department of Environmental Management lends its strong support for the Rhode Island Fishermen’s Fairness Act,” said DEM Director Janet Coit. “The time has come to better align the regional federal fishery management programs governing the fisheries off the U.S. East Coast with the interests they serve, and this Act would do just that. By promoting this Act, Rhode Island is seeking to protect and support the interests of our fishermen, in a fair, cooperative, respectful, and responsible manner.”
The catch of Rhode Island commercial fishermen represent a quarter of the overall catch from the mid-Atlantic fishery, and the landings which Rhode Island fishing vessels haul in are greater than those from the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina combined. New Jersey is the only state which lands more MAFMC regulated species than Rhode Island.
Without representation on the council, Rhode Island cannot participate fully in development of fishery management plans for mid-Atlantic stocks, many of which are crucial to the Rhode Island seafood economy.
Reed’s bill would add two places for Rhode Island representation to the 21 member council. One seat would be appointed by the Secretary of Commerce under recommendations from Rhode Island’s Governor. The second seat would be filled by Rhode Island’s principal state official with marine fishery management responsibility. To accommodate these new members, the MAFMC would increase in size from 21 voting members to 23.
U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is an original cosponsor of the Rhode Island Fishermen’s Fairness Act. Congressman Jim Langevin will introduce legislation identical to Reed’s bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.