The port of Point Judith, which has seen a steady reduction in the size of its local fishing fleet since the 1990s, received a much-needed economic boost this year from out-of-town vessels.
Hailing from mid-Atlantic ports from Wanchese, N.C., to Cape May, N.J., these vessels began coming in the spring and used the Narragansett port through the summer in many cases to offload their squid or scallops and to take on fuel, ice and supplies.
They came for one simple reason, they were following the fish. Fishermen from North Carolina to Newfoundland this year noticed a significant change in the distribution and movements of fish in the northwest Atlantic.
‚ÄúIt seems the fish are heading to the north,‚ÄĚ said Beaufort, N.C., fisherman Joe Rose, who‚Äôs been chasing fish since 1965. ‚ÄúThat seems to be what‚Äôs happening lately. Fluke, croaker, squid, spot ‚Äď all moving up.‚ÄĚ Joe is owner-operator of the trawler Susan Rose, a boat he‚Äôs owned since 1979. He was offloading his trips of squid all summer at the Town Dock, a large Narragansett fish wholesaler.
‚ÄúBut we‚Äôre also up here, squidding, because the fishery managers won‚Äôt allow us to work on anything else down South,‚ÄĚ he said, referring to tightened restrictions on fish quotas in some of those fishing areas.
This past summer, Rose sent many thousands of pounds of squid up the Point Judith dock and into the Rhode Island economy. It‚Äôs been easy for him to do so because Point Judith is set up to handle squid in volume. The processors, the inventory managers, are there. There‚Äôs pride in the port when it comes to squid ‚Äď enough pride to get the attention of some Rhode Island legislators, who failed in a bid this year to make calamari the state appetizer.
Meanwhile, the local fleet size is down ‚Äď way down ‚Äď from a high of 70 or so offshore trawlers in the 1990s to a present-day low of 25-30. This trend in consolidation has affected fishing ports up and down the East Coast.
A port that loses too many vessels ‚Äď or too many fish houses - is doomed. Point Judith has lost many vessels to either the scrap yard or into fisheries in other ports, like the Cape May scallop trade.
‚ÄúOur fleet has really been cut down,‚ÄĚ said Point Judith fisherman Jeff Wise. ‚ÄúSo it‚Äôs good to see the extra fish running through the port. I think everyone benefits.‚ÄĚ Wise, 47, is captain of an offshore trawler, the Lightning Bay, owned by Town Dock. ‚ÄúBut the one problem I do see is that we‚Äôre all going after the same biomass of fish. We‚Äôre all on top of each other.‚ÄĚ