Monday, September 11, 2017

Minding the Fisheries - Tides

By Rebecca Proulx, communications intern

Save The Bay’s mission to protect and improve Narragansett Bay goes well beyond our fight for water quality sufficient to realize our vision for a fully swimmable, fishable Bay. Our mission extends into the realm of species protection as well, because native many native species play important and interdependent roles in both water quality and ecosystem health. In recent years, we’ve been focused on four species: the Atlantic menhaden, river herring, American eel and horseshoe crabs.

The Most Important Fish in the Sea
The Atlantic menhaden is called the “most important fish in the sea.” A member of the herring family, the species is well known as a critical food source for some of America’s most precious ocean wildlife, including humpback whales and osprey. Menhaden are a key food group for many fish at the heart of our local recreational fishing industry, including striped bass and bluefish. But this tiny fish also plays an immense role in the ecosystems and water quality of Narragansett Bay and its watershed.

Above: Save The Bay docents teach visitors 

at the Exploration Center & Aquarium about 
the importance of horseshoe crabs. 
Top right: Atlantic menhaden. 
A single menhaden can clean up to four gallons of water per minute as it grazes on algae and other plankton organisms. Called filter feeders, menhaden in healthy populations consume large volumes of plankton, helping to remove excess nutrients from the water, preventing excessive algae growth, and ensuring the water has enough sunlight and oxygen to maintain marine life below the surface.

Save The Bay advocates for a robust and sustainable menhaden population, lest we lose the valuable water quality and ecosystem impacts of these tiny fish. “We must shift the fisheries’ focus from taking just enough menhaden to avoid wiping out the population, to leaving a substantial population not only for future harvest but for the filtration of our water,” says Save The Bay Executive Director Jonathan Stone.

Unfortunately, what seems broadly obvious is a daunting challenge, because menhaden are the most heavily com-mercially-fished species in the Atlantic region. They are factory-processed for oil, protein meal, and solubles, and used for bait in both commercial and recreational fishing. While the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) Fish and Wildlife Division has made strides in recent years to tighten regulations on commercial fishing in the area, menhaden are persistently overfished by commercial interests in other areas. In the Chesapeake Bay region, for example, Omega Protein, a single company in Reedville, Virginia, currently dominates the market, controlling 85 percent of the available catch.

By promoting an ecosystem-based approach to preserving the resources of Narragansett Bay, Save The Bay has been pushing for stricter catch regulations to support not only water quality, but also predator species up the food chain. According to Stone, Save The Bay has “made written proposals to the R.I. Marine Fisheries Commission, advocating for the elimination of all purse-seining in local waters and an increase in the baseline threshold of menhaden biomass observed in state waters before commercial harvest can commence.” We have also taken the issue to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, according to Stone.

Save The Bay has also been working to obtain funding for a research team to collect updated evidence on menhaden’s role in removing and transporting nitrogen from the water column. “This study could have profound implications up and down the East Coast given that menhaden act as a primary food source to countless fish and bird species and also function in the vital role as a filter fish to preserve the cleanliness of our waters, two jobs that should be of concern to all of us,” said Stone.

The Oldest Creature on Earth
Horseshoe crabs are among the oldest unchanged living species on earth and culturally iconic to Narragansett Bay. They are important commercially as bait for eel and conch fisheries, an important food source for many migratory shorebirds and finfish, and vital to Bay and salt pond ecosystems. T h e s e prehistoric arthropods also play a significant role in the biomedical industry, because their unique, bright blue blood has remarkable antibacterial properties used to detect dangerous bacteria in intravenous solutions, medical devices and vaccines.

Overharvesting, however, threatens to reverse 450 million years of survival for the Atlantic horseshoe crab. Its population in Rhode Island has dramatically declined since the 1970s and still has not recovered. Nearly 20 years ago, Save The Bay advocated for stricter limits on harvesting horseshoe crabs, based on strong evidence of overfishing, and has enthusiastically played an active role in preserving the species ever since. Unfortunately, the species failed to recover after DEM first imposed conservation measures in 2000.

Save The Bay has continued to lobby for stricter horseshoe crab regulations, and this winter, the R.I. Department of Environmental Management’s Division of Fish and Wildlife proposed new changes, to try, once again, to reverse the decline in population. Our team sprang into action, not only to support DEM’s efforts against opposition, but also to call for an even longer spawning closure, taking into account new data about climate change impacts on the horseshoe crab spawning season. We submitted two letters to DEM urging tighter restrictions on the horseshoe crab fishery. We met with DEM staff, and participated in a public comment meeting, a public hearing, and a R.I. Marine Fisheries council meeting. And we issued a press release drawing media and public attention to the importance of protecting this fishery.

As it now stands, DEM is enforcing stricter catch limits on crabs per person and requiring commercial fisheries to report all their catches. DEM also extended the spawning closure period from just a few days to four weeks, from May 1 to May 31, so the crabs can spawn throughout the month of May without threat of being harvested for bait. While this isn’t the full six weeks we asked for, “we consider the latest regulatory changes an important step in the right direction, but will continue to advocate for stricter limits in the coming years,” said Stone.

Research has found that horseshoe crab spawning appears to be triggered more by water temperature than by the highest tides associated with the new and full moons. “In 2014, warmer water temperatures triggered horseshoe crab spawning in April, and the bait quota was exhausted by the beginning of May, prior to the existing regulatory spawning closures. Even the new, longer closure period will not fully protect spawning crabs from harvest,” Stone said. “DEM must extend the closure into April if it is to fulfill its statutory duty to protect the species and allow it to regenerate.”

Where the River Meets the Bay
Further up the watershed, the American eel and river herring populations suffer not only from overfishing and poaching, but also from loss of spawning habitat resulting from some 600 dams in Rhode Island and more than 3,000 in Massachusetts.
This fish ladder in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, allows river herring 
and shad to reach Shad Factory Pond.
American eels are a highly valued member of the food web, an important food source for numerous fish and birds, such as striped bass and osprey. They are catadromous fish, which means they live in our freshwater rivers and migrate to the Sargasso Sea in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean to spawn. The juveniles return each spring to repeat the cycle. The anadromous river herring, on the other hand, spend their lives in the sea and return to our freshwater rivers to spawn. As forage fish, river herring help keep the Bay clean by consuming plankton, and, like the American eel, are also a main food group for ospreys, striped bass and other predators. In order to fulfill their natural benefit to our ecosystem, however, these fish must be able to access the habitat important to their life cycles. No matter which direction the fish are going, dam construction, culverts and habitat degradation have taken a toll on both herring and eel populations.

Save The Bay is conducting an eel monitoring project this spring at the Rising Sun Mills to be vigilant in conserving their numbers. While overall, the American eel population in Rhode Island is solid, “the species is much smaller than it has been in years past,” says Save The Bay Riverkeeper Rachel Calabro. Calabro says that Save TheBay will be working with the DEM Fish and Wildlife Division on the project, using ramps to collect and count the eels.

Working with partners in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts, Save The Bay has endeavored to build fish ladders and remove dams wherever possible to restore these historically and ecologically important species to their natural habitat. “On the lower part of the Ten Mile River, for example, we built three fish ladders that opened up 340 acres of spawning habitat that can support more then 200,000 herring,” Calabro said. Along the Pawcatuck River, project partners removed the Lower Shannock Falls Dam, and in the Taunton River watershed, which has the region’s largest herring run, we have worked with the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration on several dam removal projects.

Our mission is to protect and improve Narragansett Bay. Our ecosystem-based approach to doing that means we have cultivated a rich history in championing the full array of interactions and interdependencies within Narragansett Bay that contribute to water quality. Menhaden, river herring, American eel and horseshoe crabs are all important species in our mission to achieve a swimmable, fishable, healthy Narragansett Bay. We will continue to fight for them as strongly as we have fought many battles since 1970.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Critter Tales - The Common Spider Crab

By Ryan Ledoux, communications intern

The common spider crab, also called the nine-spined spider crab, is an animal found in abundance at the Save the Bay Exploration Center. Right when you walk in, you will have an opportunity to see and hold these often concealed species. As with most crab species, people are hesitant to touch them, but these at the aquarium are safe to hold, and although they look frightening, they actually move quite slow and have a unique spiny feel when you get them in your hand.

The spider crab mostly gets a bad rap due to its name and tough looking exterior, but in reality these guys are some of the most non-threatening scavengers in the Bay! These animals can get up to about 4 inches wide with their legs stretching to almost a foot long. Spider Crabs really aren’t picky eaters and often eat up already dead things, helping clean the bay in the process. Possessing very poor vision Spider Crabs rely on sensory organs at the end of each of their legs, which can identify food as they walk over it! This comes in handy considering their claws aren’t nearly as strong as some other crab species.

The spider crab has been an inhabitant of these waters for millions of years and are considered one of the Narragansett Bay’s oldest living fossils. The body of the crab has seen very little change over this time period, proving they’re destined to stay and continue to thrive in these waters. If you do happen to startle one of these crabs, they will let you know that you are getting too close by waving their pincers over their heads in a defensive manner.

They are also masters of disguise, often burying themselves in the sand and using their khaki and mud color to blend in with their surroundings. Surprisingly, these crabs can be found at depths most humans rarely venture, deep as 50 meters! Being an avid diver myself, I have mistakenly put my hand on a Spider Crab while it was hiding on the ocean floor! It was a sight to see the crab jump out of the sand and scurry off to a new location far away from me.

The spider crab is a mainstay in Narragansett Bay and can be found in any nook and cranny looking for its next meal. Give them a chance and you’ll be amazed by their cunning nature! To see them in person, stop by Save The Bay’s Exploration Center on Easton’s Beach at 175 Memorial Blvd. Hope to see you soon!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Aquarium is full of Captivating Crustaceans this September - Save The Bay Podcast 022

Crustaceans, which have 50,000 known species, are members of a group called arthropods, which includes lobsters, crabs, and shrimp. With segmented bodies, exoskeletons and open circulatory systems, arthropods are unique creatures that are more closely related to insects than they are to other species of crustaceans! Guests can find a variety of these armored arthropods at the Exploration Center and Aquarium.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Saving the Bay From the Beginning - Tides Blog

By Joan Abrams, major gifts officer

Shawen Williams can clearly remember when she first became aware of Save The Bay. As a child, her parents, Janice and Dudley Williams, sent her down to the rocks in front of their eastward-facing Bristol home in early spring to scrape the blobs of oil that had washed up on the shore from the oil tankers that travelled across Mt. Hope Bay to Fall River. The oil had to be removed before the weather warmed, lest it spread across the rocks and cause damage to the property and their pet dogs. “I recall my father telling our family that he’d heard that a group of people was coming together to help clean the water. Although I didn’t really understand what these Tiverton people were going to do, I know that my father was quite excited about this organization called Save The Bay,” she said.

After finishing college in 1983 and returning to Rhode Island, Shawen met London-born-and-raised Andrew MacKeith, when they were both spectators (rooting for opposing teams) of the infamous America’s Cup Race in Newport the year Australia upset the American team. The two avid sailors and swimmers married in 1986, settled permanently in Bristol near Shawen’s childhood home in 1991, and began to spend summers on the family property on Prudence Island’s west side.

Caring deeply about and supporting many of the environmental organizations protecting the land and waters of Rhode Island, the Williams-MacKeith family has been what they refer to as “modest yet consistent” Save The Bay donors for more than 40 years, particularly appreciating the fierce defense of the waters that mean so much to them. “I often credit Save The Bay with the increase in property values around the water’s edge in our state, since the Bay is not the cesspool it was when I was a child,” Shawen said. “No one really sought to live by the water around here back then, as we do today.”

On the other hand, she notes, a new threat to our local waters is the increasing presence of “sea plastic” on our beaches where “sea glass” used to be. “My son Arthur actually pointed this out to me when he was only about four years old, when I took him and [daughter] Hope for a sea glass hunt on Prudence. Hope was older and had the patience to sift for the glass, but Arthur saw the brightly colored plastic bits and decided to pick that up instead. At the end of the day, his bag was far fuller and more colorful than his sister’s. The plastic situation is so out of control,” Shawen said.

Seeing their own children develop an awareness of the precious environment around them is one of the family’s greatest points of pride, and why they are also enthusiastic supporters of Save The Bay’s education program, which provides Bay experiences for tens of thousands of schoolchildren and adults throughout the watershed. “Children learn by example and experiences,” declared Andrew, “and so we are very supportive of Save The Bay’s approach to offer a range of opportunities for children to be in, on and near the Bay.”

Having been exposed to Save The Bay and other forms of environmental activism by her father when she was a young child, Shawen shares the belief with Andrew, who was raised by his pediatrician father, Dr. Ronald C. MacKeith, to revere history, architecture and science, that children become advocates by watching their own parents’ actions and interests. Their daughter Hope, now a 21-year-old junior at Smith College, has researched issues that affect Prudence Island salt marshes. And son Arthur, a freshman at the University of Chicago, pointed out in his high school thesis that nearby development in Bristol could cause irreparable damage to the watershed.

And at the same time, thinking back on her own childhood in Bristol and awareness even at a very young age of the threats to what had been pristine waters, Shawen muses, “What condition would the Bay be in now, if it hadn’t been for an organization like Save The Bay so many years ago?”

Monday, August 28, 2017

What Save The Bay Camps Are All A“BOAT”

Juila Akerman, communications intern

It was a beautiful Wednesday morning at Save The Bay in Providence, the seagulls were chirping and the calm water was projecting a beautiful mirrored image of the sky. For most people in the Save The Bay community, it was just another spectacular day at the office, however, for about 20 students from the PASA (Providence Afterschool Alliance) program, today was the most important day of their summer.

The infamous cardboard boat race was about to start. Crowds of young campers and curious employees flooded the docks down by the water. The campers participating divided up in their four groups and presented their hand crafted boats.

How did these 7th and 8th graders construct these vessels from scratch? Well, over the past five weeks, the students worked hard with two Save The Bay instructors that taught them how and why things float through various lessons and a buoyancy lab. The buoyancy lab focused on the correlation between mass, volume, density and the ability of objects to float. The students were given the opportunity to manipulate the volume of objects to create a certain density that would make it float. This lab prepared them for their engineering project which was to construct these vessels out of cardboard and make sure that they would float using the knowledge they acquired during class and the lab. After about 20 rolls of duct tape, the students were ready to put their vessels to the test. Today was the day they had been waiting for all summer, it was time to show off all their hard work at the Save The Bay boat race.
The overall goal of the race was to paddle from one dock to the next, and return without sinking. Two daring sailors from each team geared up in bright orange life jackets and paddles. The race was about to begin, the ecstatic spectators were cheering and clapping, anxiously waiting for the young sailors to put their “paddle to the metal” and battle to the finish line.

The counselors and Captain Dan assisted all the jittery crew members into their respective vessels. Captain Dan exclaims, “Alright ladies and gentlemen! Who’s ready?!” The crowds on the docks start roaring like thunder, igniting the young sailors with excitement. Counselor Lindsay waits in the water in her kayak, holding a lifeguard ring, ensuring the safety of all the participants in the race.

Finally, it’s time. Captain Dan shouts, “On your mark, get set, GO!” The sailors dig their paddles into the water and paddle as hard as they can. The spectators on the docks are jumping up and down with excitement as the sailors make their way across the water to the other dock and back. For some teams, like the Titanic II, their journey doesn’t get them far before water starts flushing in the boat, causing it to slowly sink and forcing them to abandon ship. The Titanic II members laugh as they swim over to the ladder, accepting that their leaking cardboard ship caused them to lose the race.
For the other contestants, the race isn’t over yet. An ambitious camper Tyler calls out to his partner, “paddle! Paddle!” hoping that they can claim the first place title for their team. Paddling with every ounce of energy left in their bodies, the rest of the boats safely return to the docks. The counselors help the campers back onto the dock where they are high fived and celebrated by their teammates. All the PASA students can’t help but smile, expressing their happiness and satisfaction with the project they just completed.

The counselors and spectators all give a huge round of applause to the students, congratulating them for their hard work and accomplishments. The fun doesn’t end there for the PASA students because the ambitious counselors have an eventful summer planned for them and the cardboard boat race was just a hint of what’s to come.

Monday, August 21, 2017

From Discovery to Recovery: Oil on the Bay

By Mike Jarbeau, Narragansett BayKeeper

As Narragansett Baykeeper, my primary responsibility is to serve as the “eyes and ears” for the Bay and provide an on-the-water presence. Being on the water serves many important functions, helping me identify pollution, monitor and document water quality and engage with all users of the Bay. On a recent Saturday morning, I left the Bay Center dock on Scout, our 23-foot center console vessel, to check out weekend activity on the water and visit the locations of some of our recent work on the Providence River.

Heading south, I could see a fleet of Beetle Cat sailboats departing Edgewood Yacht Club and the Seastreak ferry making its way from Providence to Newport, and I heard radio broadcasts of an upcoming speedboat race. Upon reaching Stillhouse Cove in Cranston, I was startled to notice Scout entering a large sheen. I looked around and saw evidence of oil in all directions. Among the sheen were streaks of thick, black oil. The scent of petroleum was unmistakable. I estimated the scene to encompass between 5,000-10,000 square feet. While the source wasn’t clear to me, it was obvious that a significant amount of oil had made its way into the Bay.

I made a report to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) after-hours emergency phone number and was quickly called back by the Oil & Hazardous Materials Specialist, David Dumsar. He indicated that he was interested in responding, but did not have access to a boat. I offered the use of Scout, and picked him up at the Bay Center shortly after, where we loaded the boat with response materials. Upon returning to the spill site, we attached several lengths of oil-absorbent boom to the stern of the boat in an attempt to collect as much oil as possible. After almost two hours, we couldn’t locate any more oil in the area. We collected the boom and returned to the Bay Center, having recovered a significant amount of oil, which wouldn’t have been possible without the rapid, willing assistance of DEM.

In this case, Save The Bay’s physical presence on the Bay directly resulted in the identification and cleanup of an oil spill that may have gone unnoticed otherwise. This was a great example of the value Save The Bay provides as an organization with one primary constituent – Narragansett Bay. While the small scale of the spill likely did not warrant the use of specialized equipment including oil-skimming boats, DEM should have the personnel and resources to respond to and assess all spills reported to them. We encourage our state leaders to step up and demonstrate a commitment to Narragansett Bay by properly resourcing DEM and other agencies with environmental responsibilities. This becomes increasingly important with proposed reductions in Federal support and resources.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Advocacy in Action: A Win for Public Access in Cranston

By Mike Jarbeau, Narragansett Baykeeper

Protecting and promoting public access to Narragansett Bay is a core component of Save The Bay’s work. Our advocacy staff works tirelessly to identify and engage any actions or activities that could threaten the progress that’s been made around the Bay. Recently, we were made aware of a fast-moving ordinance by the Cranston City Council intended to ban fishing from a public access point at the end of Ocean Avenue in Cranston. The draft ordinance stemmed from complaints from nearby property owners, including the Rhode Island Yacht Club, about littering, noise violations, and congestion at the end of the narrow street. The ordinance was flawed in that it failed to address any of the problems at the site while singling out the fishing community.

The public access site at the end of Ocean Avenue.
(Buildingin the background is Rhode Island Yacht Club)
We worked quickly to gather the relevant facts and met with others opposed to the ordinance, including the Edgewood Waterfront Preservation Association and the Rhode Island Saltwater Angler’s Association. We asked the Coastal Resources Management Council to clarify the city council’s interpretation of state public access policy, and urged the Department of Environmental Management to formally confirm its role as the only agency in the state with the power to regulate fishing activities. We also made the Attorney General’s office aware of potential conflicts with the state constitution. At the same time, we met with the Rhode Island Yacht Club and other neighbors to other solutions. We reached out to city council members to share our concerns and offer Save The Bay’s assistance in promoting public access.

The Save The Bay team attended and testified at the July 24th Cranton City Council meeting in opposition of the ordinance. The council passed an amended version, but we felt it didn’t go far enough, and urged Mayor Allan Fung to veto. The Mayor’s office clarified that it read “and will enforce the ordinance to allow people to stand on the ocean side of the guardrail to the sea wall and on the beach for fishing – but not in the street or on the sidewalk.” In the end, all rights of fishery are maintained at the public access point.

We appreciate the actions of the Cranston City Council in hearing our concerns and amending the ordinance. However, we still do not believe the new ordinance addresses the concerns about noise, litter and parking at the end of Ocean Avenue; we urge the city of Cranston to look closely at solutions that will promote public access at this site and others, and we stand ready to assist. 

Every day, Save The Bay fights for the rights of all to enjoy a healthy Narragansett Bay. Our network of members and supporters plays a huge role by serving as additional eyes and ears in the community. In this case, we were able to further the concerns of community members and work with other organizations and state agencies to raise awareness of a threat to public access and influence positive change.