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DEM Announces Annual Reclassification of Shellfish Waters and Seasonal Shellfish Closures That Take Effect on May 25

Water Quality Improvements Lead to Increased Opportunities for Shellfish Harvesting in Upper Narragansett Bay, Mount Hope Bay and Kickemuit River

PROVIDENCE - The Department of Environmental Management announces that as a result of improved water quality conditions and advances in water pollution control measures, increased opportunities for shellfish harvesting in areas of Upper Narragansett Bay, Mount Hope Bay and the Kickemuit River will soon be available. Several areas of the state's shellfish harvesting waters are being reclassified, with the changes taking effect at sunrise Saturday, May 25.

"These changes in shellfish classification bring good news to commercial shellfishermen and those who recreate on the state's waters," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "They demonstrate the benefits from public investments made in wastewater treatment infrastructure. Protecting Narragansett Bay and the state's coastal waters is critical to the long-term viability of Rhode Island's $7 million shellfishing industry, and plays a prominent role in the state's economy by supporting tourism and commerce."

Details of the changes are described below.

Upper Narragansett Bay

Improved water quality results support changing the rainfall closure criteria for 462-acres of Upper Narragansett Bay from 0.5 inches to 0.8 inches of rainfall received in the Providence area. As a result the size of the "Conimicut Triangle" will be reduced and the size of Conditional Area A will increase.

The description of the Conimicut Triangle closure area is revised as follows: North of a line from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management pole located on Conimicut Point to the center of the Conimicut Light, and a line from the center of Conimicut Light to the center of the Old Tower at Nayatt Point and south of a line from the Old Tower at Nayatt Point to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management pole located on Conimicut Point, meaning to include any portion of the Providence River included within these boundaries.

Mount Hope Bay and Kickemuit River

Improved water quality conditions in Mount Hope Bay and the southern end of Kickemuit River also support opening 449.5 acres in the northwestern portion of Mount Hope Bay and at the mouth of the Kickemuit River for shellfish harvesting. These waters were previously closed to shellfishing and are reclassified from prohibited to conditionally-approved. These waters will close to shellfish harvesting for a minimum of seven days after 0.5 inches or more rainfall/precipitation is received in the Taunton area.

The description of this area is as follows: All waters of the Kickemuit River and Mt. Hope Bay south of a line from the range marker at the eastern extension of Patterson Avenue in the Laurel Park section of Warren to the flagpole on the opposite eastern shore on the property of #61 Asylum Road in Touisset, and north and west of a line from Bristol Point to the Buoy "R4" channel marker located on the southerly side of the Mount Hope Bay channel, that intersects with a line from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management range marker located approximately midway on Touisset Point to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management range marker located on Common Fence Point in Portsmouth.

Additionally, a review of water quality data on marina and mooring activity in the Kickemuit River has led to elimination of most seasonal closures in the Kickemuit River. Only one seasonal shellfish closure will remain in effect, and this closure is located at the entrance to the Kickemuit River (Narrows) on the easterly side at Senn's Marina. There is a 25 ft. closure around all docks and pilings associated with the marina.

Sakonnet River

Of particular interest to recreational diggers is DEM's reclassification of two previously un-assessed small tidal inlets located on the easterly side of the Sakonnet River to allow for shellfish harvesting. Two areas totaling 10.7 acres that are reclassified as approved include a small tidal cove to the north of Seapowet Point and another small tidal area on Fogland Point. These changes are based upon the results of sampling initiated by DEM in 2007 to collect data needed to classify these waters. Unacceptable water quality conditions has led to the closure of a third area along the easterly shore of the Sakonnet River, a 16.6 acre tidal pond within the Rueker's Wildlife refuge in Little Compton, which is re-classified from approved to prohibited. DEM will continue to collect data at all three locations and from other tidal inlets that are currently considered un-assessed but show promise that they can be opened for shellfish harvesting.

Public Investments in Wastewater Infrastructure Bring Improved Water Quality

The current closure criteria for Upper Narragansett Bay, first put into effect in 2011, reflect the improvements in water quality resulting from the Narragansett Bay Commission's (NBC) ongoing three-phase combined sewer overflow (CSO) program. With construction of the three-mile long, 26-foot diameter rock tunnel capable of storing 62 million gallons of combined sewage and other improvements completed as part of Phase I in 2008, the volume of combined sewage that flows untreated into Providence waters has been significantly reduced. Completion of the Phase II CSO improvements in 2015 will bring additional improvements as more CSOs are connected to the tunnel and more combined sewage is sent to the Fields Point Wastewater Treatment Facility for treatment. In the meantime, DEM continues to monitor the Upper Bay to determine if other modifications to the closure criteria are possible. During 2012 and again this year, DEM is supplementing its routine compliance monitoring with wet-weather monitoring of the Upper Bay by targeting rain events between one and two inches. The purpose of the monitoring is to determine if water quality conditions in Conditional Area B support increasing the rainfall amount that triggers a closure and/or moving the southern boundary of Area B northward, thus shrinking the area classified as conditionally-approved.

The increased shellfishing opportunities in Mount Hope Bay are due in part to improvements at the Fall River wastewater treatment facility including the construction of facilities to store and treat combined sewage. DEM is working with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and US Food and Drug Administration personnel to undertake a joint study of Mount Hope Bay. The bi-state study, to be conducted in 2014, will document in detail bay-wide water quality conditions. This information will allow both States to assess and if warranted, adjust closure criteria to Mount Hope Bay as a conditionally-approved shellfish harvest area.

Seasonal Closures Become Effective at Sunrise on May 25

Lastly, DEM announces that seasonal shellfish closures take effect at sunrise Saturday, May 25. The areas seasonally-closed to shellfish harvesting include waters within the following areas: Block Island (Great Salt Pond and Trims Pond), Bristol Harbor, Jamestown (Dutch Harbor area), Potter Cove (Prudence Island), and Wickford Harbor (Fishing Cove). In addition, the smaller marina closures in the south coastal ponds and the Kickemuit River also go into effect. Consistent with US Food and Drug Agency requirements, DEM closes these areas to the harvesting of shellfish every year at this time due to potential water quality impacts associated with marinas and mooring fields. The seasonal closures will end at sunrise on Tuesday, October 15.

Ongoing Shellfish Management Plan Initiative

Since early January, DEM and the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council have led an effort to develop a Rhode Island Shellfish Management Plan to provide comprehensive policy guidance regarding state management and protection measures for shellfish resources, such as bay quahogs and oysters, located in state marine waters. Facilitated by RI Sea Grant/URI Coastal Resources Center, the state has engaged stakeholders in identifying policies and practices to enhance the management of this vital resource. As part of these proceedings, DEM's Office of Water Resources officials made a presentation of current shellfish management program. The presentation and other information about this collaborative initiative to develop the Shellfish Management Plan are available online at: http://www.rismp.org.

Policy Change Impacting All Conditional Areas

DEM has typically enacted weather-related closures of conditional shellfishing areas at noon, with a scheduled reopening at sunrise 7.5 days later. Stakeholders at Shellfish Management Plan meetings asked DEM to reconsider this issue because the required closure time is 7 days. As conditions warrant, DEM will now re-open areas at noon 7 days following the closure, rather than at sunrise on the following day. Everyone is encouraged to listen carefully to the information on the DEM shellfishing hotline.

Additional information on shellfish areas are available on DEM's website, www.dem.ri.gov, by clicking on "Shellfish Closure Maps and Info" under Timely Topics on the homepage and selecting the appropriate link under "Documents: Shellfish Grounds, Closures and Approved Areas" or by following this link: www.dem.ri.gov/maps/mapfile/shellfsh.pdf or by calling DEM's Office of Water Resources at 222-3961. Updated information on conditional closures is available by calling DEM's shellfishing hotline at 222-2900.

Related links

Department or agency: Department of Environmental Management

Online: http://www.dem.ri.gov/

Release date: 05-23-2013

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