To Further the ‘Calamari Comeback,’ RI Delegation is Angling to Give Ocean State Fishermen a Greater Say on Squid Quotas

Oct 20, 2020 Issues: Rhode Island

WASHINGTON, DC -- In an effort to give Rhode Island fisherman a voice and voting representation on the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC), which manages some of the most important fish stocks for the state's commercial fishing industry – chief among them squid, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and U.S. Representatives James Langevin and David Cicilline, today announced the reintroduction of the Rhode Island Fishermen’s Fairness Act.  The bill 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.

“This is an issue of fairness.  The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council is a key decision making body that determines what happens off the coast of Rhode Island, but our state doesn’t have a seat or say right now.  Our fishermen deserve appropriate representation on this 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 this council and this legislation will ensure they get it,” said Reed, who has been pushing this issue since 2005.

“As climate change heats up the oceans, fish that once lived in the warmer mid-Atlantic have migrated north to the waters off New England,” said Senator Whitehouse.  “We’re fighting to get Rhode Island fishermen more of a say in the rules for catching fish that are now plentiful off our coast.”

“Rhode Island’s fishermen must have a voice in the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s decisions, which increasingly affect the future of Rhode Island’s fisheries,” said Langevin, lead author of the House bill. “Our state has a proud history of providing quality seafood for our nation, but climate change and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continue to threaten our fishing industry. As the Mid-Atlantic Council confronts these pressing challenges, we are reintroducing the Rhode Island Fishermen’s Fairness Act to ensure Rhode Island has a seat at the table.” 

“Getting a seat at the MAFMC table would be a major win for Rhode Island’s fishermen,” said Congressman Cicilline. “The loss of restaurant revenue during this pandemic has devastated our commercial fishing and seafood industries. Rhode Island fishermen have worked hard to overcome these challenges this year, and including them on the Council will give them an even better opportunity to succeed.”

The catch of Rhode Island commercial fishermen represents a significant percentage of commercial landings of the Mid-Atlantic fishery, and is greater than most of the states represented on the Council.  According to data provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), between 2014 and 2018, Rhode Island accounted for approximately a quarter of the commercial landings by value from stocks under the MAFMC’s sole jurisdiction.

According to a 2019 report from NOAA’s commercial landings database: There were 32 million pounds of squid landed by Rhode Island fishermen with a value of $31 million.  This represents about 40 percent of the state’s total commercial fisheries landings by pounds and 28 percent of total landings value.

Without representation on the MAFMC, Rhode Island cannot participate fully in development of fishery management plans for Mid-Atlantic stocks, many of which are crucial to the Rhode Island seafood economy.

The Rhode Island 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.