NARRAGANSETT, RI – After the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) recently voted 16-4 against a proposed squid buffer zone framework off the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts that would have negatively impacted Rhode Island fishermen, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline commended the council. And this week Reed introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate and Langevin introduced identical legislation in U.S. House of Representatives to give Rhode Island a seat at the council table going forward so that the state and local fishermen have a direct say over matters that impact them. The Rhode Island Fishermen’s Fairness Act, which is cosponsored by Whitehouse and Cicilline, would add Rhode Island to the list of seven states with voting representation on the MAFMC, a regional management board that establishes fishery management rules for stocks primarily caught in federal waters adjacent to the mid-Atlantic coast.
The MAFMC denied the squid buffer zone proposals of 6 or 12 miles off the south of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard -- which were backed by Nantucket charter boat captains, who claim the squid fishery is making it harder for their clients to land striped bass -- but would have had a severely negative economic impact on many commercial Rhode Island fishing boats.
In consultation with Rhode Island fishermen and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM), all four members of the delegation urged the MAFMC to reject the proposed creation of a squid buffer zone in federal waters in the vicinity of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
The Congressional delegation wrote that the buffer zone proposal was not rooted in science, but would “have a significant effect on the harvest of one of the most important stocks for the Rhode Island fishing industry. We would also highlight the fact that the Council just a few months ago adopted measures to mitigate effort in federal waters during trimester 2 of the longfin squid season. It makes no sense, even before those measures have been implemented, to adopt a buffer zone that would further restrict fishing and harm Rhode Island's fishing economy.”
While the delegation believes the Council reached the correct decision in this instance, they say that Rhode Island deserves representation on the Council, to ensure the state may participate fully in development of fishery management plans for mid-Atlantic stocks, many of which are crucial to Rhode Island’s seafood economy.
“Rhode Island fishermen care deeply about the health, sustainability, and management of our fisheries. This is an issue of fairness and our fishermen deserve appropriate representation on the 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,” said Senator Reed, the author of the Senate bill who has been leading efforts on this issue since 2006. “Rhode Island fishermen are increasingly dependent and invested in the Mid-Atlantic Fishery, hauling in more squid than any other state currently on the Council, but they don’t have the same voice on management as other states do.”
The catch of Rhode Island commercial fishermen represent a significant percentage of commercial landings of the Mid-Atlantic fishery, and is greater than most of the states represented on the Council.
“Rhode Island’s fishermen deserve fair representation on the Council, which makes important decisions that affect their livelihoods,” said Congressman Langevin, the lead author of the House bill. “When catch areas significantly overlap or realign, the law needs to keep pace and ensure that those landing the fish have a seat at the table. Rhode Island calamari and other delicacies are known around the world, and they are the pride of our state. As we seek stability in the long-term management of these fisheries, the Council needs direct representation from those Rhode Islanders who know these species well, and the Fisherman’s Fairness Act provides that accountability.”
"Our commercial fishing industry, including our famous Ocean State calamari, is a major employer in Rhode Island and a significant driver of the local economy,” said Senator Whitehouse. “As climate change drives species of fish traditionally from the Mid-Atlantic north towards Narragansett Bay, it's only fair that the hardworking fishermen in Rhode Island have a say in the decision
“I’m thrilled! This is a major victory for Rhode Island fishermen,” said Congressman Cicilline. “Our commercial fishing and seafood industries generate millions of dollars in economic activity and support good-paying jobs across our state. I’m pleased that the Mid-Atlantic Council made the right decision.”s affecting their livelihoods.”
The Fishermen Fairness Act would add two places for Rhode Island representation to the 21 member Council. One seat would be appointed by the U.S. 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.
“The Town Dock supports the Rhode Island Fishermen’s Fairness Act. Rhode Island lands more squid than any other state on the east coast and we support having seat at the table to manage a resource that we so greatly depend on,” said Katie Almeida, Fishery Policy Analyst at The Town Dock.
“We fully support this bill. Rhode Island lands more squid than all other East Coast states combined, as well as the majority of butterfish harvested on the East Coast. However, since these species are managed by the Mid Atlantic Council, we have no official final Council vote on management measures. We believe it’s time for that to change,” said Meghan Lapp, fisheries liaison for Seafreeze Ltd.