NARRAGANSETT — Officials with the Marine Fisheries Division of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management rolled out proposed amendments to the requirements for commercial and recreational saltwater fishing licenses at a public hearing Monday.
The hearing, which took place at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography, attracted just a handful of interested parties and lasted less than an hour.
Senior DEM Fisheries Biologist John Lake said the amendments were largely aimed at streamlining existing regulations and making them easier to understand.
“We’re just going through and clarifying things, putting them in in their correct sections,” he said. “Sometimes, we find the same regulations two times, three times in three different sections. That’s a lot of language, but to us, we’re not really making any big changes.”
The hearing is part of an annual process that solicits feedback from fishers and other stakeholders and records those comments for consideration by the nine-member Rhode Island Marine Fisheries Council at its meeting on Oct. 1. The council will then send its final recommendations to DEM Director Janet Coit, after which they become law, either as is or with additional amendments. Rhode Island fishing licenses apply to Rhode Island waters, which extend three miles offshore. Beyond that, federal regulations apply.
A subject that arises every year is fishing license ratios; the numbers of new licenses that can be issued to replace those that were held by people who have retired. With dwindling quotas on restricted fish species such as striped bass and summer flounder, it is a challenge to strike a balance between the need to recruit new fishers and ensuring there aren’t too many boats pursuing too few fish.
DEM’s Chief of the Division of Marine Fisheries Jason McNamee, who chaired the hearing, explained the two licensing ratio options. The first option maintains the current 1:1 exit-to-entry ratio. For every fisher that retires, one license could be issued to a new applicant. The second option proposes to increase the ratio to two new licenses issued for every one retiring fisher.
“For every license that is retired, that second option is proposing replacing it with two new licenses,” McNamee explained.
Fishing industry representatives were unanimous in voicing their preference for maintaining the existing 1:1 ratio.
Matt Conti, who runs the Snug Harbor marina, said increasing the number of new licenses would put additional pressure on the resource.
“It’s working well at 1:1 ratio,” he said. “Before, it was 5:1. Just to be able to let anyone get in, I think there would be too many people at once.”
Rod and reel fisherman Dave Blackburn said he was concerned that if the number of new fishing licenses were increased, some of them might go to out of state fishers.
McNamee explained that the number of licenses was already so low that even with the issuance of twice the new licenses, the total number would only be 30. He also noted that out of state applicants would be at the lowest tier for consideration.
Written comments on the proposed amendments can be submitted until Sept. 27. More information is available at: http://www.dem.ri.gov/programs/fish-wildlife/marine-fisheries/rimfc/index.php