RI Announces Expanded Shellfishing Areas

Photo by Marlith, via Wikimedia Commons

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) recently announced that access to prime shellfishing areas in state waters has been expanded under the Department’s annual shellfish harvesting reclassification.

Among the changes, restrictions on portions of Upper Narragansett Bay—which have been in place for the last 70 years—will be lifted; all of Cormorant Cove on Block Island will be open to shellfishing for the first time in a decade; and the seasonal closure of Greenwich Bay will be eliminated.

Removing and modifying conditional closures in Upper Narragansett Bay is made possible, in large part, due to the completion of Phase I and II of Narragansett Bay Commission’s combined sewer overflow (CSO) project. This investment has led to dramatic improvements in water quality throughout the lower Providence River and upper bay.  As part of the reclassification of shellfishing waters, Conditional Area B—3,712 acres in the upper bay—will change from conditional to approved status. The Conimicut Triangle Conditional Area will also be merged with Conditional Area A.

The area previously identified as Conditional Area B, encompassed the waters north of a line from Warwick Point to the Providence Point on Prudence Island, to Poppasquash Point in Bristol, and south of Conditional Area A. The new Conditional Area A generally includes upper bay waters south of the Providence and Warren Rivers and north of a line from Rocky Point pier to Colt State Park pier.

Also effective on Saturday at sunrise, the new Conditional Area A will close after 1.2 inches of rain.  Previously, Conimicut Triangle waters closed at 0.5 inches, and Conditional Area A waters closed at 0.8 inches. A review of historic rainfall data indicates this change will likely increase shellfishing opportunities in the former Triangle area by 85 days annually, and the remaining waters by 35 days.

Water-quality monitoring, combined with shellfish tissue data, also shows that the lower portion of the Providence River holds potential as a new conditional area in the near future. Shellfishing has been prohibited in the river for more than 70 years. DEM, along with its partners, will develop a management plan for the area before it is opened to shellfishing; this is to ensure the long-term sustainability of the shellfish stock. This work is expected to continue into 2018.

Investments in infrastructure upgrades have brought marked improvements in water quality. Phases I and II of NBC’s CSO abatement plan has collected and treated eight billion gallons of dilute sewage that would have been discharged to the Bay and urban rivers. NBC is finalizing its plan for Phase III of the CSO project. Upon implementation, further improvements to Upper Narragansett Bay and the Providence, Seekonk and Blackstone Rivers are expected.

Under this annual notice, the seasonal closure of western Greenwich Bay will also be lifted. As a result of reclassifying 1.1 acres, all of Cormorant Cove on Block Island will be open to shellfishing.