Black Point Fish Trap to close due to cable installation

In Narragansett Bay
Fri, 02/12/2016 - 1:30pm

The largest and oldest fish trap in Rhode Island will be closed due to the installation of the undersea transmission cable that will connect the Block Island Wind Farm to the mainland, The Block Island Times has confirmed.

During a public meeting last week, the Vice President of the Rhode Island Fishermen’s Alliance expressed frustration that the Black Point Fish Trap was going to close during the installation of the cable, which will be owned and operated by National Grid, and that it might not reopen after that. 

Gail Mastrati, spokesperson for the Department of Environment Management, confirmed on Thursday, Feb. 11, that the fish trap would be closed. Asked for how long, Mastrati said “indefinitely.” DEM manages the state’s fisheries and fishing industry. 

National Grid's Media Relations Director David Graves said that the impact of the closing of the fish trap has been "amicably resolved" with the owner of the fishing company that is currently licensed to fish at the Black Point fish trap.

Rich Fuka, the President of the R.I. Fishermen’s Alliance, returned a phone call from The Block Island Times, confirming the fish trap “will have to suspend operations, which is a very big deal for Rhode Island. It’s our state’s oldest fishery.” Fuka said it was also the largest. The fish trap is located at the mouth of the west passage of Narragansett Bay. The fish trap cannot be moved, both Fuka and Mastrati acknowledged.  The fish trap is not a fishery, but rather the location where the floating fish traps are used.

Because the fishermen who work in the fish trap can throw back any live fish they are not intending to catch, Black Point can be described as one of the “most sustainable fisheries of all,” Fuka said.

When asked what is caught in the fishery, Fuka said, “Everything from scup to butterfish, summer flounder, squid. This fish trap has landed giant tunas — I know it will be hard for people to read that and understand that. Just about any species of fish swims into that trap.”

The Black Point Fish Trap is currently fished by the Black Point Fish Trap Company out of Narragansett.

"National Grid entered into an agreement with the Black Point Fish Trap owner that mitigates construction and future operation of the sea cable that will be installed as part of the sea2shore project," Graves said in a statement to The Times. Sea2shore is the proper name of the cable. "The need for permanent mitigation arose after conducting detailed engineering, constructability and maintenance reviews and analysis of the state and federal permitted cable installation site. It was determined, after examining multiple alternative options, that the existing fishing operations conducted in that permitted location would have both short- and long-term interference in the construction and operation of the sea cable. The amicable resolution achieved between National Grid and Black Point Fish Trap resolves these challenges."

According to both Fuka and Mastrati, the Black Point Fish Trap has historic significance and is of great importance to the Rhode Island fishing industry.

“This is the only remaining trap at the mouth of the west passage of Narragansett Bay and as such, has both economic and cultural significance,” Mastrati said in an emailed response to The Times. “This fishing mode is not only a clean way to fish but also offers higher quality and diversity than some other fishing modes. This, combined with its proximity to port, results in a high yield of product being landed for a single operation.” 

By “fishing mode,” Mastrati was referring to the fact that floating fish traps are the only type of fishing done in this particular fish trap.

“This fishing mode was once a common practice in the Bay, but over time, as operations shut down, the numbers have dwindled to less than a dozen,” Mastrati said. “This particular trap is the only one remaining at the mouth of the west passage of Narragansett Bay."

“This is the way they have fished there for a very long time,” said Fuka. “It’s one of the great ways to fish.”

Mastrati acknowledged the impact that closing the fish trap will have on the state’s fishing industry.

“This is a productive trap with high quality and diversity of product. There is no guarantee that the same quantity and diversity of product will be available through other means,” Mastrati said in her email. “And given floating fish traps have their own quota for specific species, fishermen will not necessarily be able to compensate for the lost landings.”

Fuka said the fish trap has operated for at least 150 years, while Mastrati said the date of its usage was unclear. “We know this type of fishing predates most fisheries management,” she said. Citing Rhode Island state law (20-1-10), Mastrati said that the tonnage of fish taken out of the fish trap was confidential.

Mastrati explained why the Black Point Fish Trap Company was the only company currently fishing in that location.

“Floating fish trap licenses are based on historic participation. Only existing operators are eligible to renew these licenses — unless a license is transferred by sale to a new owner,” said Mastrati. “The new owner would then be eligible to renew the license.”        

Closing the Black Point Fish Trap is “certainly a loss for the state of Rhode Island,” Fuka said, adding that other states will be looking at how Rhode Island handles the matter.

Expanding on DEM’s role in the state’s fishing industry, Mastrati said, “Our Division of Fish & Wildlife Marine Fisheries researches and monitors marine species to support the effective management of finfish and shellfish of commercial and recreational importance. Rhode Island has a diverse and dynamic commercial fishing and seafood industry. Steeped in tradition, the industry continues to thrive thanks to the health and abundance of locally available fishery resources and the thousands of hardworking men and women who harvest the resources and make them available to seafood consumers throughout Rhode Island – and the world. From local favorites such as squid and quahogs, to scup, fluke, big eye tuna and tile fish — it’s all abundant and landed right here in the Ocean State."

Graves said no other fisheries will be disturbed by the installation of the cable.