The Saltwater Fishing Regulations for 2022 in RI will soon be finalized. RIDEM held their public hearing on the recreational regulations on February 7 and the final decision will be made shortly after the Marine Fisheries Council makes their recommendation to Terry Gray, the RIDEM Acting Director at their meeting on March 7. Read below to see that there is one twist presented by the MAMFC and ASMFC at their joint meeting on February 8.
The participation by RISAA members at the RIDEM Public Hearing on February 7 was outstanding. I have been attending these meetings for about 20 years and except for a few early battles about menhaden in the Bay, this was the best, most verbal turnout I have ever seen by any user group! There were over 70 people in the room and over 100 people on Zoom, the majority of whom stated that they were RISAA members. Truly a GREAT turnout!
In my estimation, it was a bit disappointing that the Old Guard Charter Captains went against us on most issues, but we certainly were heard. Here is my summary of how I saw at that RIDEM Public Hearing:
- Public Comments are being held open until February 22 (likely too late by the time you are reading this). Just send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Black Sea Bass option proposed by RISAA was #1 and had a great level of support (this option included opening June 2 at 2 fish per person, then 3 fish starting September 1 until November 30). The Party & Charter (P&C) guys had Proposal #2 which basically was #1 but split them out and gave them 6 fish per person from July 1 to the end of the year. Most of the “for hire” boats spoke for #2, but that still opens general recreational fishing for BSB on June 2, so either way it is an earlier opening!
- On Striped Bass the regulations remain unchanged from 2021; the only significant discussion was about whether to allow gill net boats to keep and sell stripers. RISAA stated that we are not in support of this proposal.
- Since fluke is set for an 18% liberalization we asked that the regulations allow 1 of the 6 fish bag limit to be 16″ with the rest staying at 19″ (proposal #1). The idea of this is to protect fluke by taking some males and reducing discards. If some people stop fishing after they get 1 fluke to take home for dinner it will reduce the number of discards and lower discard mortality. Option #2 was to just reduce the size from 19″ to 18″ keeping the bag at 6 per person. P&C mostly supported #2 but RISAA had good numbers in support of #1. I believe that #1 is much better for the fish and would allow many inshore anglers to take a fluke home for dinner.
- The amount of discussion on tautog was tremendous. RISAA proposes limiting each angler to no more than 1 fish over 21″ and reducing the “bonus” fall season from a bag of 5 to a bag of 4 fish per person (proposal #1). Many charter captains, many RISAA members, and even the Island Current (headboat) and Freedom Boat Club spoke in favor of this proposal saying how important it is to protect this fishery NOW. Many even suggested that the fall bag should stay at 3 fish per person, not 4. The only people who spoke against this were the RI P&C association who basically said – “we built this fishery up and now it is time to harvest them.” I think their opinion shows disrespect for the resource that we have and if we follow them we will beat this fishery back down to where it was 15 years ago. Knowing how slow these fish grow we need to protect them now.
Again – thanks to all who participated!!!
One twist happened the very next day – February 8 at a joint meeting of the MAMFC and ASMFC. After much discussion about why they didn’t like their previous decision to cut harvest of species that were at high population levels (scup and black sea bass are both near 200% of their Target Spawning Stock Biomass) the council voted to change the black sea bass regulations for 2022. They voted to modify the required harvest reduction for BSB to 20.7% rather than 28% as had previously been mandated. That means that States will be allowed to increase the harvest of BSB by 7.3% compared to what we expected going into the RIDEM Public Hearing. I do not know yet how that will allow RIDEM to open recreational fishing a bit more than the option that I discussed in item 2 above.
Needless to say, I am still confused about how the regulatory process can allow us to take more fluke and at the same time reduce the recreational harvest of BSB.
Also, at the joint ASMFC and MAFMC, the topic of Recreational Reform and the proposed Recreational Harvest Control Rule were discussed. They confirmed that they intend to have a draft ready for implementation in the 2023 fishing season. With all of the controversy surrounding the new BSB harvest restrictions, the Council has an appetite for getting this passed as soon as possible. The documents are not ready yet for Public Comment, but the briefing book created for Council members can be found here: https://www.mafmc.org/council-events/2022/february-2022-council-meeting
I will keep an eye out for the draft once it is released for Public Comment and inform the RISAA Legislative Committee at that time.
JOIN the RISAA LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEE
All RISAA members are welcome to join the RISAA Legislative Committee. If you are interested send an email to me at email@example.com and we will send you the link (via email) to the next Legislative meeting.