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Pair trawling raises concern among fishermen

February 05, 2012

South County Independent
Thursday February 2nd, 2012

NARRAGANSETT Officials are considering a ban on herring pair-trawling in state waters.

Galilee fishermen have called the vessels, most which approach the state’s maximum 165 foot commercial fishing vessel limit, too large and incompatible with the operations of the local fleet.

“I have people calling me telling me, ‘Rich, it’s getting out of hand with the pair-trawlers,’” said Rich Fuka, president of the R.I. Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance.

For years, out-of-state trawlers have targeted Rhode Island waters for Atlantic herring, which funnel into Rhode Island every winter via the Nantucket Sound. This year, warm weather and relatively high water temperatures have kept the herring schools here for longer periods of time.

“This is the most herring that some people have ever seen,” said Fuka. “Normally there are here and then they are gone. This year they are sticking around.”

While the large schools of herring, which fetch between a dime and 15 cents per pound, have created a windfall and stimulated some economic activity in the port, fishermen out of Point Judith have been battling with massive out-of-state trawlers.

The tiny herring, while used in a limited capacity for human consumption, are used as lobster bait and feed for killer whales and dolphins at aquariums around the world.

The schools consist of millions of migratory herring, which move up and down the coast and enter Rhode Island through Nantucket Sound. The giant schools annually attract commercial fishermen from both the local fleet and out-of-state pair-trawling vessels.

While most of the state’s fleet operate individually, utilizing small mesh bottom trawls, pair trawlers team with another vessel and drag a net through large swaths of sea. The boats can hold anywhere between 600,000 and 1 million pounds of herring, most of which is transported out of state and processed in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

“We see zero,” said Phil Roule Jr., captain of the 55-foot Seabreeze in Point Judith. “Plus, nobody wants to see that, a giant factory boat off the beach.”

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