Pair-Trawler Ban Passes in R.I. House

By ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — A bill (pdf) imposing a one-year ban on the use of large, double-boat fishing trawlers cleared the House of Representatives on Feb. 28. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Teresa Tanzi, D-South Kingstown/Narragansett, moved quickly through the hearing process after large out-of-state trawlers nearly depleted the winter herring catch limit in a just a few weeks in February.

The Senate Committee on the Environment and Agriculture is expected to hold a hearing on its bill (pdf) soon. At a special Senate hearing Feb. 15, state officials noted that out-of-state pair-trawlers descended on local waters two years ago, but that a ban wasn't broadly supported by the fishing industry. This year, however, after 90 percent of the 22-metic-ton limit was reached, there was no opposition. The House passed the bill 66-0.

Many pair trawlers converged off Narragansett and Charlestown in January and February, as schools of winter herring fed in unseasonable warm waters. Neighboring states such as Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire have restrictions or bans on pair-trawling. Rhode Island has fewer and much smaller trawlers. State officials said the proposed ban is economically driven, as most of the catch is being processed in Massachusetts. Some herring are processed at Quonset Point and a new facility is proposed for the port of Galilee could expand the local fishing industry.

Until then, “there’s no benefit to our state to allow this type of fishing," Tanzi wrote in a prepared statement. "It has not been the local fishing fleet that is doing it, and the state isn’t collecting any taxes or other revenue because the fish are generally landed in other states."

There also were incidents of pair-trawlers damaging smaller fishing boats and fixed fishing gear such as lobster traps.

The new legislation bans pair trawling until March 1, 2013, allowing the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) to review regulations and hold public hearings on the issue.

The Rhode Island Marine Fisheries Council also will discuss the ban at a March 6 meeting at the University of Rhode Island Bay Campus in Narragansett.