August 22, 2014
The soft sand along Cards Pond can make for tough walking, especially in waders. When the pond is breached, exiting brackish water carries small bait fish and often there are bass and blues waiting for a meal delivery. It’s hard to make eastward progress up high where the sand is thick, but that’s where a fisherman encountered two women last fall, talking while struggling to carry large burlap sacks up the beach and back to the parking lot. That image was enough to catch the eye and when asked what was so heavy, their response was suddenly non-English. Close up, it was obvious the bags were laden with blue crabs, hundreds of them, just taken from the pond. Because he didn’t know the laws and he didn’t have the number, he didn’t call RIDEM but he sure knew it didn’t look right. He carried their license plate number for months in his truck but that really amounted to simple inaction. They robbed a 40 acre pond blind of an important part of our ecosystem and got away clean.
Last week, Huan Lin Zhao, Hong R. Zhen and Jin Win were in front of a judge, charged with taking blue crabs after the legal harvest hours and female crabs laden with visible eggs from Ninigret Pond. Unfortunately the charges were dismissed with a far too lenient $50 donation to the Violent Crime Indemnity Fund. A tip of the camo hat to the RIDEM officers who brought three thieves to court but somehow, they managed to walk way for fifty bucks, the same price of a round of drinks at Milt’s. Talk about a missed opportunity to send a message. RIDEM Enforcement’s phone number is 401.222.3070.
Fishing for stripers has slowed a bit west of the island, where water temperatures are around 66 degrees. There are still some very large bass being landed but the bluefish seem to be fully entrenched. Eels are still the go-to bait and based on the size of those bluefish, you will do well to bring a few extra eels. The fluke bite has slowed in close to the south facing beaches although a few are still being landed around Clay Head. Scup are here in great numbers coast-wide and up into the Bay. Large schools of bait fish seem to be headed towards our beaches, along Narragansett Beach and near the Quonny breach way, hopefully bringing with them blues and bass. Steve Babcock reported a big school of crashing bait along the beach near Charlestown and based on the action, there were predators below but he was not able to determine what species the bait was. But as he is known to say, “You never know, but you can always tell. Sometimes.” That certainly clears that up.
Our very local efforts to strengthen river herring survival along with regulations to limit sea herring capture and the bycatch of both may help to strengthen herring populations and therefore, Atlantic puffin chicks. The Atlantic puffin appears to have suffered another decline in the percentage of fledgling that were able to fly on Maine’s Seal Island. From 77% success just seven years ago to a depressing 10% last year, some, like The Audubon Society’s Steve Kress, feel global warming may be a factor. Warmer water temperatures in the Gulf of Maine from the previous year will affect plankton production, which in turn reduces survival of young herring, a primary puffin food source, along with sand eels and capelin. Our local work means a lot on a regional scale.
Speaking of, there still has been no decision regarding the reconstruction of the Main Street fish ladder project. According to RIDEM Conservation Engineer Andres Aveledo, who is overseeing the Wakefield Fishway, Narragansett Dock Works was the lowest bidder at $624,000. According to Mr. Aveledo, a contract has yet to be awarded as the state is attempting to secure additional funding for the project, which was originally scheduled to begin in July or August, with a completion date of mid-November. This project is sorely needed to get those critical forage fish past our dams.
The local art world lost a major force last week with the passing of prolific Jamestown painter, Tom McAleer. Several years ago, the magnificent Block Island artist, Cindy Kelly, turned me on to his images of fishermen in yellow rain coats fishing from the rocks. There was something so amazing about the rough brush strokes, the piles of color and the thought you had to invest to see how much was there. The colors were not exact. It was hard to tell rocks from sea. The long poles were crooked and had no reels and none of that was the point. There was something in the light, the colors, the way you were reminded that when fishing, sometimes rocks and sea are one and we are the same with them and we are often lucky just to hold on and cast. Tom produced paintings in quick succession, often selling them for very short money. That price usually meant that if you bought one you got to pick out another, for free. He gave many paintings away for free, which was a sign of his kindness and an indicator of how much he just loved to paint.
Tom McAleer will be sorely missed by a community of artists fishermen and folks who need to see someone’s view of our lives and places. One person takes all they can get without regard for pond or sea or our balance with them, while another takes in those images and gives them back to us on canvas for free. It’s true, you never know.