'Bay Window' wins federal funding to study pollution effects
The congressional delegation that secured money for the Bay Window Monitoring Program gathered at the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) Fisheries site at Fort Wetherill Monday morning, June 23, for a press conference to announce the $916,000 in federal funding.
Host Ken Sherman, chairman of the Bay Window Steering Committee, stood behind a podium in front of the research vessel John H. Chaffee and introduced U. S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, U. S. Representative Patrick Kennedy and U. S. Representative James Langevin as they each gave short speeches about the successes and future of the Bay Window program. U. S. Senator Jack Reed, who is also a member of the delegation sent a staff representative because he was unavailable due to a prior commitment.
The audience of researchers, scientists, academia and members of the media joined together to fete the legislators for their joint acquisition of $916,000 in federal funding for the program, which is a national model for research, data collection and assessment.
"All of us at Bay Window are very proud and grateful to have the wholehearted support of our delegation members in Washington who realize the importance of keeping an around-the-clock eye on the health of Narragansett Bay," said Mark Gibson, a Bay Window Steering Committee member who is deputy chief of DEM Division of Fish and Wildlife.
Representative Patrick Kennedy captivated the audience with his dry wit when he said, "Narragansett Bay is very much like my middle school report cards. It is doing well but still needs improvement."
Kennedy reported that menhaden have returned to the bay in record amounts, with a recent count of over 24,000,000 - nearly double that of last year. "The oxygen and phosphorous are at steady levels, which will ward of the fish kills of the past," Kennedy said.
"As Narragansett Bay changes from year-to-year, we have seen how important it is to keep our fingers on its pulse and adapt accordingly," Kennedy, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, said. "In Mt. Hope Bay and Upper Narragansett Bay our research still detects the threat of low oxygen in the water during summer months but we are also seeing the return of menhaden and other fish, and a stable quahog population. The ability to discover why both are occurring is what the Bay Window offers us."
Kennedy was also responsible for securing an additional $300,000 to close the gap in unforeseen fuel costs. The funds kept a clam survey from shutting down and prevented a 24-percent, or a 16,000,000 unit, cut in the 64,000,000 shellfish quota.
The congressman went directly to Vice Admiral Lautenbacher at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and confronted him with the problem. Kennedy walked out with a promise to provide the necessary funds to keep the program alive, he said.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse mirrored Kennedy's remarks and said, "With the new funds, Bay Window will be able to continue monitoring the health of our treasured Narragansett Bay around the clock, looking at everything from temperature changes in the water to the health of the fish and shellfish that live in it."
Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee explained that, "The data the Bay Window's team collects, helps us to better understand not only the forces at work in the bay today, but the impact of those forces on the bay tomorrow and for years in the future."
Representative James Langevin, a co-sponsor of the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act said, "In Washington, I have been proud to fight for efforts to improve Narragansett Bay, and the Bay Window Program has proven to be an effective project worthy of congressional support."
"The expertise of the best scientists and researchers at URI's Graduate School of Oceanography and NOAA's Marine Fisheries center in Narragansett, combined with the commitment and skills of our state agencies, is a tremendous team effort that has shown how top-notch information gathering leads to top-notch management of the Bay," Langevin added.
Mark Gibson commented on the valuable research of the Bay Window program, saying, "We now have the ability to find out what happened to lesser known species that have been fast disappearing, like the sea robins and the oyster toad fish." He said that although they aren't commercially significant, "We should know why any species is dwindling in numbers and how many are on the brink of extinction." The Bay Windows program can provide that research, he said.