Date of Award

1995

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Marine Affairs

Abstract

In the State of Rhode Island, marine fisheries are managed through the Marine Fisheries Council, a citizen-based regulatory body of nine members from either the commercial or recreational fishing industries or experienced with the conservation and management of fisheries resources. To ostensibly help this group make informed decisions, biological data and scientific advice are provided by the State Division of Fish and Wildlife. This thesis examines the decision-making process of this Council. More specifically, it provides a case study of how this body has attempted to manage the State's winter flounder stocks-an economically-valuable species which confines its life cycle mostly within state jurisdictional waters. Specific attention is paid to the manner in which scientific recommendations are incorporated into the Council's decisions. Through carefully examining the minutes of monthly council meetings and annual stock assessments of the past ten years, a detailed chronology is presented of the stewardship of this species. Upon an analysis of this information, it is concluded that the Council has generally failed to take timely action to prevent the collapse of this fishery despite being forewarned of its demise, and even worse, has occasionally acted in direct contradiction to the Division's findings and recommendations. Any attempt to revamp the Council's decision-making process must provide a framework to better incorporate scientific advice. In recognition of this, this thesis starts with the premise that the fundamental purpose of any management system-public or private-is to work towards the realization and accomplishment of an organization's goals (as specified through objectives). Through a careful review of the State's environmental laws, it has been determined that a critical omission in Rhode Island's marine fishers management program is the failure to clearly define its stewardship goals. As things currently stand, it is uncertain as to whether or not the Council is even supposed to prevent overfishing. Consequently, to the detriment of the State's fishery resources, important decisions are routinely delayed or postponed indefinitely as various factions within the Council work towards dissimilar or diametrically opposite goals. Given this state of affairs, it is therefore not surprising that the Council has been largely ineffective in preventing the devastating collapse of the State's winter flounder stocks despite an abundance of data forewarning of such an occurrence. To remedy this situation, it is recommended that the State unequivocally recognize that conservation, not allocation, is the foremost goal of its management program. Additionally, to help meet this goal, strategies should be developed to more consistently incorporate scientific data into the decision-making process. This study further recommends that the system of adaptive management, as specified under the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Striped Bass Management Plan, serve as a model to better include biological data in the decision-making process. An underlying precept of such a program is the need to constantly monitor stock conditions and make adjustments when necessary. In specific reference to the State's winter flounder fishery, year class abundance as determined through the Division of Fish and Wildlife's inshore trawl survey can survey as an early indicator to help reach more timely and effective management decisions. By adopting these recommendations the State can take a giant step towards ensuring that its marine fisheries remain a viable and sustainable resource for future generations to enjoy.