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A Century of Fishing and Fish Fluctuations in Narragansett Bay

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Fish and shellfish abundance for Narragansett Bay and coastal Rhode Island waters from landing data and surveys were compared over the past century using the originally abundant species. The first quantitative data became available in the late 1800s as conflicts developed between the hook-and-line fishermen and the fish trap fishermen with the hook-and-line fishermen claiming a reduction in the availability of fish. Subsequent data were available from the state of Rhode Island and National Marine Fisheries Service landing data, and from the Graduate School of Oceanography and Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management surveys. In the early records, several anadromous fish species were abundant which are no longer abundant or not reported in recent surveys such as alewife, shad, and smelt. Changes in shellfish include the disappearance of soft-shell clam, cultured oyster, and scallop and a replacement by quahog although the landing of quahog is recently down. Lobster was abundant in the early record and has increased in abundance in the recent records. Several species of fish that once dominated the catch have decreased. Boreal species like winter flounder have decreased with increasing water temperatures over the past 30 years. Migratory fish like menhaden and food fish like scup have decreased to low levels in the late 1900s compared to the 1800s. Predictions of fish yield from primary production indicate that migratory populations sustained the fishery in die late 1800s but in the late 1900s these populations no longer exist to sustain such a fishery. Survey data indicate these waters without fish have become prime habitat for crabs and lobsters.

The legislatures of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, in 1869-1870 requested a law be passed prohibiting fixed apparatus for catching fish. (Spencer F. Baird, 1873).

The compelling argument is not regulation and terse fact; rather we must accept our responsibilities and obligations, as users and temporary proprietors of the coastal commons, to keep track of what is happening there, to measure changes as they occur both naturally and. in response to our presence, and to act responsibly--all this because we, too, are pan of nature. It follows, than, that planning, restoration, and overall responsibility can and should, become part of our existence. How well we are progressing is the job of monitoring. (H. Perry Jeffries et al., 1988)
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Keywords: Fishing; Narragansett Bay; fish; fluctuations

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, Narragansett, RI 02882 USA 2: Rhode Island. Department of Environmental Management, Jamestown, RI 02835 USA

Publication date: July 1, 2003

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