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SAMP feared as threat to fishing

Providence Business News|Ted Nesi |November 15, 2008
Rhode IslandGeneralEnergy Policy

As the state moves forward with the creation of zoning regulations for Rhode Island's coastal waters, commercial fishermen are worried their interests will not be adequately represented when key decisions are made about where they can fish. ...The fishermen, for their part, say they are supportive of efforts to develop renewable energy and are not looking to derail the SAMP project. "We can absolutely live together," said Wallis. "We just want to have a good say in that."


As the state moves forward with the creation of zoning regulations for Rhode Island's coastal waters, commercial fishermen are worried their interests will not be adequately represented when key decisions are made about where they can fish.

The fishermen expressed their concerns Oct. 29 at the first stakeholder group meeting for the Ocean Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) project, which will define use zones for about 1,547 square miles of state and federal waters off the coast of Rhode Island. (READ MORE) The R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) is in charge of the project, which is laying the groundwork for construction of an offshore wind farm.

Those who attended the meeting at the University of Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay campus said much of it was spent discussing the fishermen's concerns.

The stakeholders group - set up by the CRMC and open to any interested party - has more than 40 members, including environmentalists, business leaders, municipal officials and academics.

Save The Bay Baykeeper John Torgan, who attended the ... more [truncated due to possible copyright]

     

As the state moves forward with the creation of zoning regulations for Rhode Island's coastal waters, commercial fishermen are worried their interests will not be adequately represented when key decisions are made about where they can fish.

The fishermen expressed their concerns Oct. 29 at the first stakeholder group meeting for the Ocean Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) project, which will define use zones for about 1,547 square miles of state and federal waters off the coast of Rhode Island. (READ MORE) The R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) is in charge of the project, which is laying the groundwork for construction of an offshore wind farm.

Those who attended the meeting at the University of Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay campus said much of it was spent discussing the fishermen's concerns.

The stakeholders group - set up by the CRMC and open to any interested party - has more than 40 members, including environmentalists, business leaders, municipal officials and academics.

Save The Bay Baykeeper John Torgan, who attended the October meeting, said he came away thinking it will be "virtually impossible" to achieve a full consensus among the various interest groups. "The first meeting did not go well," Torgan said. "It wasn't a disaster, but it was rough. And the reason is there is a lot of suspicion out there," particularly in the commercial fishing industry, about how final decisions will be made for the SAMP.

Others were more optimistic. Cynthia Giles, director of the Conservation Law Foundation's Rhode Island office, said she thought the first meeting was a good start. "I was ... very encouraged that there was widespread agreement at the first meeting that we must act on climate change and that we in Rhode Island need to take charge of our energy future and stabilize prices by having our own clean energy here at home," Giles said in an e-mail.

The fishermen say their main concern is that they will not have a seat at the table when sections of the ocean are officially designated as not available for fishing.

"We feel a little disenfranchised," said Russ Wallis, president of the Ocean State Fishermen's Association. "I think that the industry deserves to maybe have a little more input than just a thank you and a pat on the back ... because we're obviously the ones that are going to be most affected by this."

Lanny Dellinger, president of the Rhode Island Lobstermen's Association, called the SAMP process "very scary for us." He said the fishermen are concerned the outcome has already been predetermined. "Our feeling is we need to be meaningfully engaged in this project and not just be along for the ride, and that's how we feel right now," he said. "As far as stakeholders who have something to lose, we're talking about our livelihoods here."

The fishermen fear the SAMP zoning will circumscribe where they can fish, and they worry that they could wind up being cut off from vital fisheries if a section of the sea that is important to them gets designated for a wind farm or a shipping lane.

"Some people from our membership, their grandfathers, great-grandfathers, [their families have] been fishing out there for hundreds of years," said Dellinger. "We know what those critical habitats are for the species that we depend on."

Dellinger said the fishermen are particularly worried that the SAMP's leaders already have decided which research projects to pursue, and also that there is no representation from the state or federal governments' marine fisheries agencies. "It seemed like mostly URI people," he said.

The fishermen's associations held a joint meeting earlier this month at which they agreed to craft an organized strategy for the SAMP through the Rhode Island Commercial Fisheries Center, which is run by the groups in partnership with URI. They are also planning to contact lawmakers and other policymakers to voice their concerns, Wallis said.

The officials in charge of the Ocean SAMP insist that they are listening to the fishermen. "They're engaged just as much as every other stakeholder, and we look forward to working with them," said Jennifer McCann, who heads the federal program at the Coastal Resources Center at URI and is one of the project leaders for the Ocean SAMP.

McCann pointed out that David Beutel, of the Rhode Island Sea Grant program, has been made the designated outreach person from the SAMP to the fishing industry. No other group has a specific individual devoted to reaching out to them, she said. A telephone hotline and a Web site also have been set up to handle questions and provide information.

Still, McCann emphasized that the CRMC has the legal jurisdiction to craft the new rules. But, she added, "clearly, the stakeholder working group has an important role in this, and will be part of the decision-making."

Although some research efforts have begun, McCann said the SAMP project's leaders are focusing for now on the stakeholder group. She also said the research projects had to be decided upon quickly due to time constraints.

In addition, she noted that CRMC and other organizations working on the SAMP have decades of experience putting them together both locally and around the world. "Look at our record," she said. "The public has always been engaged in the decision-making process."

Another stakeholder, Michael Keyworth, manager of Brewer's Cove Marina in Barrington and director of the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association, pointed out that last month's session was only the first in two years' worth of meetings.

Keyworth also noted that five fishing-industry representatives are in the stakeholder group. But they are also just one interest group among many, he said, and everyone will have to compromise in the end.

"The waters of Rhode Island are held in trust for the people of Rhode Island," Keyworth said. "And what that means to me is that it is the responsibility of our legislators and our regulators to find some balance that is in the interest of the people of Rhode Island - not any special interest group." He also expressed confidence in the chair of the stakeholders group, Kenneth Payne, a former top policy adviser in the R.I. Senate.

The fishermen, for their part, say they are supportive of efforts to develop renewable energy and are not looking to derail the SAMP project. "We can absolutely live together," said Wallis. "We just want to have a good say in that."

Save The Bay's Torgan said he sympathizes with the commercial fishermen, who have been hammered by the rising cost of fuel and bait, tightening regulations and declining stocks. "They're being pinched from all directions," he said.

He argues that the SAMP's leaders should open every part of the process to the public - not only the stakeholders group, which is public, but also the scientific, legal and other policy groups. "I know they may feel that's sort of unwieldy, but if you don't ... there's going to be a sense that things are being done without the benefit of transparency," Torgan said.

The next public meeting of Ocean SAMP stakeholders is slated for Dec. 2.

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Source:http://www.pbn.com/stories/36…

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