Stakeholders meet to discuss new shellfish management plan
A near-capacity crowd filled Corless Auditorium on URI’s Narragansett Bay Campus Monday night as the process for creating a state shellfish management plan was introduced to a wide range of stakeholders.
On hand were government offi- cials, research scientists and members of the academic community. Also in attendance were representatives from the shellfish industry and activist groups like the Nature Conservancy, ecoRI and Save the Bay.
After being welcomed by Dr. Bruce Corliss, dean of the Graduate School of Oceanography, and Judith Swift, director of the Coastal Institute, attendees heard from state Sen. Sue Sosnowski, who has owned an organic farm for 25 years, as well as state Rep. Eileen Naughton, who chairs the legislative aquaculture commission.
The introductory remarks were followed by an overview of the initiative that was presented by Dave Beutel of the Coastal Resources Management Council and Mark Gibson of the state Department of Environmental Management. The pair outlined the process and provided a timeline for the creation of the management plan.
The first stage of the process began in October and will continue until July. During that time issues will be identified and assessed. The second phase will last from August until October 2014. The 14-month period will be used to prepare a plan. The final stage will tie up any loose ends and finalize the proposal.
The evening’s speakers had to walk a thin line. While stressing the need for a new plan – despite the fact that there is no mandate dictating it – they also had to allay any fears among industry representatives that new regulations would have a draconian effect on their business. They attempted to accomplish this by emphasizing the inclusive and participatory nature of the process that will lead to the plan.
An open discussion followed, with Rhode Island Sea Grant’s Jen McCann calling for attendees to raise issues that they would like to see addressed as the plan is developed. There were variety of suggestions from the audience that included a definition of restoration, simple access to research, protected zones for wild harvest, predator management, management of invasive species, and education at a municipal level.
According to McCann, the state invited the University of Rhode Island to facilitate the process of developing a plan for the state. The purpose of the initial meeting was to provide an overview of the project and let people know how they can get involved in the process. McCann said that the Rhode Island Sea Grant program had committed $1.2 million in research funds related to shellfish.
“We’re working hard to ensure that people are involved in the [plan], but we’re also investing our own money to ensure that research helps to improve management for the state of Rhode Island,” she said.
One of the greatest concerns among attendees was whether the Department of Environmental Management and the Coastal Resources Managements Council – two agencies that have a history of butting heads – could work together to develop and implement an effective management plan. DEM Executive Director Janet Coit and Grover Fugate of the coastal council were on hand to lend assurances that the two agencies could work hand in hand on the project.
“It is a historic day,” Coit said. “This is the first time that state regulatory agencies, DEM and CRMC, will be working with academic institutions, URI and Roger Williams University, and inviting an open process to take a look at our shellfish resource and all the value that it brings to us.”
According to Coit, among the goals of the plan are to create better opportunities to promote aquaculture, provide research dollars for scientific understanding of shellfish, and to create a renewed sense of pride about the many benefits that shellfish bring to the state.
“They’re really owned by everyone, and they’re part of our culture, as well as part of our economy,” Coit said.
Jamestown’s Phil Larson, who heads the aquaculture movement in town, was pleased with what he heard at the opening meeting.
“I’m very excited about it in many ways,” he said. “I think it’s really important. Any time you can get the various competing groups for the seashore in one room it’s an excellent thing. I’m very encouraged. I think it will be a wonderful thing, and you can’t beat face-toface conversations.”
Scoping meetings to address specific issues including harvesting and restoration are planned for later this month. The next overall stakeholder meeting will take place in March.
Other organizations that are supporting the initiative include the Rhode Island Foundation, the Sharpe Family Foundation and the Prospect Hill Foundation.