WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and U.S. Representatives Jim Langevin and David Cicilline today announced that Rhode Island fishermen are slated to receive a new infusion of up to $475,000 in federal funds to support research projects aimed at improving the sustainability of local fisheries. 

The Rhode Island-based Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation (CFRF) has been selected to receive $399,870 and the Rhode Island Natural History Survey, based in Kingston, has been selected to receive $75,241 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) competitive Saltonstall-Kennedy Grant Program.

The federal funds will enable CFRF to continue its successful “On-Deck Data Program.”  Comprised of 14 fishing vessels, this program allows local lobstermen to use tablet computers and electronic calipers to collect and transmit real time data on their catch and share it with researchers and state and federal officials studying the lobster and Jonah crab populations in Narragansett Bay and the southern Gulf of Maine to Hudson Canyon.

Senator Reed helped secure $190,000 in federal funding for the program in 2014.  All four members of the delegation sent a letter to NOAA supporting CFRF’s application for the funds announced today.

As New England lobstermen catch and sell more Jonah crabs in their traps, industry leaders and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission are collaborating to develop a management plan for the fishery before it becomes overexploited.  Jonah crabs are becoming more popular on menus, the Associated Press notes: “Jonah crab catch increased sixfold from 2000 to 2013, with fishermen catching nearly 7,000 metric tons two years ago, federal data show.  The crabs also increased more than 700 percent in value in that time, with the fishery worth nearly $13 million in 2013.”

The Rhode Island Natural History Survey is an independent, non-profit organization founded in 1994 to gather and disseminate information on Rhode Island’s animals and plants, geology, and ecosystems.  It will use federal grant funds to develop a climate change adaptation blueprint for Rhode Island commercial fisheries through industry-led collective visioning.

“This is a smart investment in helping Rhode Island’s fishing industry,” said Senator Reed, a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS), who has worked to secure funding to address local and regional fishery needs.  “I want to commend CFRF and the Rhode Island Natural History Survey for their work and leadership, which NOAA is recognizing through these grants.”  

“The fishing industry is a part of Rhode Island’s economic and cultural fabric,” said Whitehouse, a co-chair of the Senate Oceans Caucus who has worked to protect American fishermen against harmful international pirate fishing.  “This funding will support our local fishermen by helping us to better understand and adapt to the changes in fisheries triggered by climate change, and I congratulate the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation and the Rhode Island Natural History Survey on being selected for these awards.”

“Rhode Island fisheries are an essential piece of the Rhode Island economy, and our local fishermen rely on healthy, sustainable ecosystems. This grant funding will improve sustainability and provide stability for fishermen and, in turn, for the food economy and tourism industries that they supply,” said Congressman Jim Langevin

“These federal funds will make it easier for Rhode Island’s fishing industry to invest in innovative technology and ensure their long-term sustainability,” said Congressman Cicilline. “I congratulate the CFRF and the Rhode Island Natural History Survey on receiving this important funding that will create new jobs and grow our local economy.”

“The CFRF is extremely pleased to receive this award. It will enable us to continue this model approach to data collection, and support the collaborative effort underway between the fishermen and government scientists.  This data is very important to maintaining sustainable Jonah crab and American lobster harvests,” said Peg Petruny-Parker, Executive Director of the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation.

The Saltonstall-Kennedy grant program provides financial assistance for research and development projects that maximize fishing opportunities and jobs, improve the cost effectiveness and capacity for fishery observations, increase the supply, quality and diversification of domestic seafood, and improve the quality and quantity of fishery information from the U.S. territories.  In recent years, the Committee on Appropriations has encouraged NOAA ensure that there is robust funding dedicated to this competitive grant program.