Aquaculture & Fisheries

R.I.’s Commercial Fishing Industry Charts Future Path


The plan found Ocean State fisheries face an unprecedented convergence of challenges. (istock)

The Rhode Island Commercial Fisheries Blueprint for Resilience, a 40-page plan co-created by 125 members of Rhode Island’s fishing industry through an extensive two-year process, found Ocean State fisheries face an unprecedented convergence of challenges.

Warming water temperatures, changing food webs, habitat alteration, shifting demographics and labor markets, increasing competition from other ocean industries, and regulatory strain are stressing an already-diminished sector, according to the plan.

The plan recognizes the interconnected nature of these pressures and sets a course for addressing them as a system. It identifies goals, tools, and tactics associated with seven key strategy areas: public relations; civic engagement; the next generation; innovative seafood marketing; working waters and coastlines; healthy habitats; and adaptive science and management.

The process that led to creation of the plan was coordinated by shellfisherman Sarah Schumann, founder and president of Eating with the Ecosystem and author of Rhode Island’s Shellfish Heritage: An Ecological History. The process was decentralized and bottom-up, and included 48 interviews, 10 themed workshops, a full-day scenarios-planning exercise, and an extensive industry-based review process. The report isn’t affiliated with any one entity; it belongs to the fishing industry as a whole.

The Rhode Island Commercial Fisheries Blueprint for Resilience will be shared with state and federal government agencies, municipalities, academic institutions, supply-chain businesses, financial institutions, and the philanthropy sector — all of whom hold a piece of the answer to the riddle of resilient fisheries.

Rather than supplanting the role of these entities, the plan paves the way for engaging them more meaningfully in the shared work of assuring a vibrant future for Rhode Island fisheries.

The plan’s publication is neither the first nor the last step in Rhode Island fishermen’s efforts to come to terms with change. Fishermen have a rich history of innovation and ingenuity, but modern-day challenges place unprecedented strains on individual capacity to adapt. These challenges demand a collective approach.

Financial support for the project was provided by a Saltonstall-Kennedy grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Fiscal sponsorship was provided by the Rhode Island Natural History Survey.

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