We’re wrapping up a solid Fish Wrap 2021 with a two-week review of three large issues: COVID, coastal access and total characters. The first continues to dominate our news and lives, the second threatens our freedom to walk a beach and the latter is the heartbeat of Fish Wrap. As always, thanks for reading Fish Wrap. Words in italics were mined from 2021 Fish Wrap pieces for our Year in Review.
It’s clear 2020 was a barn burner of a year which left us with a multiple-month hangover. As such, the RI Saltwater Anglers Association has canceled their 2021 New England Saltwater Fishing Show. Actually, the RI Convention Center informed RISAA that COVID’s uninvited arrival trumped fishermen and women’s need to wander and shop as the Center is reserved as a field hospital for this uninvited virus long overstaying its welcome. The popular three-day show was canceled twice, impacting businesses small and large and all those looking to stock up for a big season or to just wander around in pajama bottoms, knocking back a few early morning Narraganset’s. RISAA President Steve Medeiros said, “Having the show in April, May or June wouldn’t make a difference. There’s no way by that time, with COVID, that we could put up to 5,000 people at a time together.” The good news is that the show will go on in 2022, on March 11, 12 and 13.
A Fish Wrap’s year in review would never be complete without a look at the Palisades Mill, where our beloved river herring attempts passage each year…Eyeing the tail end of COVID, RIDEM established more rigorous schedules for volunteers, as opposed to those fine, loose Sunday morning outings of old, behind Whalers brewery, where brave men jumped in icy eddies, reaching up with bulging nets to others who enjoyed remarkable moments watching fish have new chances to reach their millennia old spawning grounds. Considering how many dams in New England eliminated anadromous fish connectivity for a hundred years or more, feeling the weight of a net full of herring before setting them all free past non-functional stone barriers is a baptism we should all experience.
RIDEM’s Pat McGee said the 2021 run was an estimated 26,000 buckies, down from about 50,000 in 2020. Could be cyclical, could be predation; either way, here’s to buckies making a big return on that March full moon.
Coastal Access Was A Major 2021 Issue
2020 was a watershed year for people taking a stand to protect access to water, our rights to walk a shoreline and our right to be notified when a small business might be permitted in our front yard. “They have such a head start,” said Tiverton resident Ken Mendez, waist deep in an incoming Sakonnet River tide. Casting a fly rod southwest, he aimed to fool a striped bass feeding near the Seapowet Bridge and not foul hook a yellow corner buoy without numbers, marking a proposed shellfish aquaculture business. A shellfish farming business was far along our state’s permitting process yet many direct abutters knew nothing about it so a real grass roots group evolved to question regulations. “We bought this house because of the fishing,” Mr. Mendez said, looking out over the Seapowet Marsh, piles of letters and computer models. He is concerned because the site is in prime fishing grounds so he’s weighed risks of waving the flag and giving up a spot. Anyone with good Yankee stock would know that place is fishy.
Wheels are in motion now, with a CRMC review panel authorized by legislation and A new advocacy group has formed in the wake of concerns of how our CRMC publically notifies shoreline abutters and users of public trust waters when applications for commercial business licenses are considered. The RI Coastal Advocacy Coalition coalesced around the idea that CRMC needs to reform, in some cases radically, not only how it informs potential abutters to commercial businesses like shellfish aquaculture but also how they consider potential impacts on historic recreational uses like swimming, sailing, fishing and clamming.
Perry Raso’s move to expand his oyster farm in South Kingstown’s Potter Pond, despite ardent opposition by many year round recreational users, along with applications to develop deep and shallow water shellfish farms near the Seapowet Marsh in areas heavily and historically used by recreational anglers and hunters, have largely proceeded with little public notice outside of official website listings which many never knew existed. And that’s the long ignored rub.
Peter Jenkins, owner of The Saltwater Edge, wrote to CRMC: “The placement of this oyster farm in an area used by recreational anglers would significantly reduce access for these anglers, especially at low tide. The RIMFC’s recent decision in a 4-3 vote to support the project was based on limited public input from recreational anglers. Many stakeholders for this project were not notified of the agenda item and were not able to provide feedback at the meeting. I learned of that meeting at 3pm on the day of the meeting. The Seapowet story really brought to light a permitting system in need of repair.
Fish Wrap Would Not Exist Without So Many Characters
Greg Vespe has been chosen to take the helm of the RI Saltwater Anglers Association.
“I’ve been fishing for a long, long time. Wake up, fish a little more…I still have the same tin I had in high school and I’m as comfortable in that tin as I am with anything,” he said, referring to his storied, reliable metal boat. This telling comment reveals his ability to chase, catch and release fish from shore or any size boat, all with that grade school excitement which will translate easily as he helps protect anglers of all sorts in many waters. Greg has been a RISAA member for twelve years, was an eager participant in their activities almost since its creation, has donated his time to several boards and commissions and is a very popular meeting and Saltwater Fishing Show seminar speaker, which he calls the best fishing show in the Northeast and its “crown jewel”.
“This is very exciting for me, I mean, it’s tempered by the loss of Steve,” he said, referring to the unfortunate passing of Steve Medeiros. Greg shares identical attributes (with Steve) coupled with a desire to be creative and inclusive as he increases a membership reflecting a changing world. “I believe at our core, we are a family friendly fishing club where members of all skill levels can come together, share experiences and provide opportunities to learn from each other,” Greg said.
Amen to that.