Hearing set on proposed ban on taking herring

01:40 PM EST on Wednesday, March 1, 2006
Providence Journal Staff Writer

WARWICK -- The Department of Environmental Management has proposed a statewide ban on the taking of alewives and blueback herring, also called buckeyes, thus joining Connecticut and Massachusetts in prohibiting any harvesting of the species in marine or fresh waters.

In late March or April, the herring leave the ocean and return to the freshwater ponds where they were spawned. Saltwater anglers net them in local brooks for use as live bait.

The proposed ban on taking buckeyes, scheduled for a hearing Monday, March 13, in Narragansett, was applauded yesterday by the Buckeye Brook Watershed Council, a group attempting to protect what's left of one of the more historically important runs in Rhode Island.

At the same hearing, the DEM will take comment on its proposed amendments to rules affecting the harvesting of tautog, striped bass and mussels, changes summarized online at www.dem.ri.gov/programs/bnatres/fishwild/pn031306.htm.

Steve Insana, founder and vice president of the watershed council, said yesterday, "We've been advocating for years that they close the run." The fishery is "depleted all across the region," he said.

About 20 streams in Rhode Island support herring runs, according to Insana. He said Connecticut imposed its ban about four years ago and Massachusetts last year.

In the last several years, Insana said, diminishing stocks in Rhode Island came under even greater pressure because of demand for bait fish in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Current Rhode Island regulations allow taking 12 buckeyes a day Wednesday through Saturday. The DEM's proposal says, "No person shall land, catch, take, or attempt to catch or take any alewives, Alosa pseudoharengus or blueback herring, Alosa aestivalis, from any marine waters of the State of Rhode Island. Possession of any alewives or blueback herring at any time is prohibited and shall be evidence that said herring was taken in violation of this section."

Decades ago, an estimated 5,000 fish an hour passed through the Buckeye Brook culvert under Warwick Avenue in the space of 12 to 15 hours, on their way to spawning waters in Warwick Pond and Spring Green Pond.

Last spring, the highest count recorded by volunteers was 600 fish per hour, for three consecutive hours.

Insana, who has lived on the banks of the brook all his life, called it the poorest run he had ever witnessed.

Regionally, alewives and herring are being depleted by unregulated commercial harvesting at sea, loss of habitat on inland waterways, and natural predators. The run in Buckeye Brook is also thought to be adversely affected by polluted stormwater from T.F. Green Airport.

Since 2004, the state Airport Corporation and the DEM have been unable to agree on setting limits to the amount of aircraft de-icer allowed in the brook. As glycol-based de-icing chemicals break down in the freshwater environment, they consume oxygen and may contribute to mass die-offs of buckeyes swimming upstream to spawn.

The March 13 public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. in Corless Auditorium, on the University of Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay Campus.

The watershed council is scheduled to meet next at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 14, at the Warwick Public Library, Sandy Lane.