R.I. Adopts Laws to Curb Illegal Sale of Striped Bass

By ecoRI News staff

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) recently enacted new regulations to help prevent the illegal harvest and sale of Atlantic striped bass.

The new rules, outlined in Rhode Island Marine Fisheries Regulations, Part XII Striped Bass, require recreational anglers to clip the right pectoral fin of striped bass 34 inches or larger at the time of harvest; fish with a missing right pectoral fin can’t be sold commercially in Rhode Island.

DEM said the new regulations, adopted following considerable public input, will help prevent “stockpiling,” which occurs when fish are harvested on a day closed to commercial fishing and then offered for sale on an open day. The new regulations also address fish being illegally transported and sold in neighboring states, according to DEM.

Block Island Sound, in particular, is a well-known hot spot for large striped bass that draws anglers from across the region.

“Rhode Island is known for its spectacular angling and abundant fisheries,” DEM director Janet Coit said. “Our local harvest supports the health of our families, economy and way of life. And protecting the viability of our stock and ensuring fish are legally harvested and sold are responsibilities we take very seriously. These new regulations are critical to supporting the continued vibrancy of the striped bass fishery, and I thank the Rhode Island Marine Fisheries Council for its leadership in engaging the public around this important topic and working to protect our state’s marine resources.”

Last year, Massachusetts adopted a similar regulation to curb stockpiling; it requires commercial fishermen who fish recreationally for striped bass on a closed commercial day to clip the fin of any striped bass harvested and retained that is 34 inches or larger. In Rhode Island, in addition to the new fin-clipping regulations, complementary dealer regulations make it unlawful for a licensed dealer to buy and/or offer for sale any striped bass with the right pectoral fin removed. Combined, these regulations not only bring Rhode Island in line with Massachusetts but also assist law enforcement in applying federal restrictions on this resource and preventing poaching, according to DEM.

Atlantic striped bass has long been an important sportfish in Rhode Island, revered by recreational anglers for its size and “catch” challenge. Currently managed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), the striped bass fishery isn’t considered overfished nor is overfishing occurring. However, there has been a decrease in the amount of spawning stock biomass — fish that reproduce and contribute to the viability of the fishery — according to DEM.

As a result of this trend and its 2013 benchmark stock assessment, ASMFC required coastal states such as Rhode Island to take steps in 2015 to reduce 2013 harvest levels by 25 percent, to reduce fishing mortality. In Rhode Island, a one-fish bag limit was established for the recreational fishery and a 25 percent quota reduction was set on the commercial fishery.