Quick question, when you visit the shoreline, be it fresh or saltwater, what’s your priority? Chances are you want to park your vehicle, then fish, swim, paddle, explore or maybe just lean back with a cold one and practice some kayak lethargy and that’s all good. The fun and peace associated with water is also what draws many people to buy or build along the shore and over time, historical, legal access can become sketchy. Typically, those seeking to put in or fly cast are there for the same reason the other side bought or built a house right alongside: we want to be where we can see fishermen and boaters and people with their sleeves rolled up carrying a hod full of muddy steamers. Pretty skiffs on moorings, lighthouses guiding our sailors, that kind of thing.
In Matunuck, there are several legal right-of-ways to Segar Cove, just a fine paddle away from Potter Pond, where schools of small blues have been lighting up some early twilight hours for the last few weeks. There are parking spots and access paths at the end of Park, Lake and Atlantic avenues and we should be wearing down paths such as these because too often, neighbors get irritated by people having the temerity to use them. Signage can be a limiting factor when looking for access, but that goes to the whole priority thing. We have boat ramps, publically maintained, surrounded with “no parking” signs. What good is a ramp if you can’t park your truck and trailer nearby? Towns are financially stretched, for sure and that can impede levels of maintenance but what’s the priority? Maybe we have enough business, enough visitors, enough cash incoming to not sweat details like letting people know how to get to the free water.
Our Constitution states that “the people shall continue to enjoy and freely exercise all of the rights of the fishery, and the privileges of the shore … including but not limited to fishing from the shore, the gathering of seaweed, leaving the shore to swim in the sea and passage along the shore.” If someone plants some plants in the way or an access sign magically flies thirty feet into the knotweed or landowners complain with no cause, we the people still have our rights. If you think our access is not being limited, take a walk along a south facing beach, like near Green Hill. Try mingling with the seasonal locals or backing up to get a load of seaweed for the garden and see how that goes. It’s a big deal so if you have a moment, check out www.rishoreaccess.org for a look at some people working to protect our Constitutional right to go to the beach.
Narragansett Dock Works has returned its big yellow crane to the Main St. fishway in South Kingstown to complete their rehabilitation project begun this past spring. According to RIDEM Project Engineer Andres Aveledo, the remaining section of the old cement fish passage will be tied into the new walls before crews begin “demolishing the existing lower leg of the existing fishway and constructing rock weir structures in the river channel.” Once that phase is completed, they will focus on the other side of the unnecessary dam by South County Orthopedics to “complete the construction of the out-migration structure”. With a finish date of sometime in November, the fishway will be ready to move river herring, shad, maybe even salmon and a sturgeon or two next spring. Unfortunately, this was a year of significantly depressed numbers for returning anadromous herring state-wide. According to local herring passage volunteer coordinator, Bill McWha, his numbers of returning herring were down by 65%, which translates to about 15,000 fish this year, down from 74,000 last. Numbers of out-migrating herring were relatively decent, which is some silver-ish lining.
There are several suspected reasons for this years decline but from this seat, the effects of commercial fishing for sea herring and their river herring bycatch has to be taking a death toll. Certainly we all need the fishery to support our demand for cat food, supplements and lobster bait. Many states, like ours, have moratoriums on inland harvests but then industrial-scale trawlers dragging for sea herring can scoop them up as bycatch, without the visuals of on-board observers, and leave no hard numbers behind. Why are there no observers you ask? The answer is smoke and mirrors and money money money and that’s a question worthy of another week.
Sadly, we have lost a fisherman and businessman, Joseph Martins. Many knew him from RISAA meetings, manning his Pt. Jude Lures display, others for years watched him play that saxophone in bands like Mercury and Triple Threat. A good friend of mine has a theory about how people pass through our lives at certain times and how the timing might not be coincidental but life is just so short; often we miss the meeting. I never formally met Joe, which leaves me wondering about about loss. His family grieves for theirs while I am left questioning how my life might be different had I known him, even just spoke with him, even for a few minutes. I am sorry for them and certainly I am sorry for never having had the pleasure of his company, either in a club or on the water.