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Marine Fisheries Coastal Trawl Survey

The Research Vessel John H. Chafee is the Department of Environmental Management’s Marine Fisheries Research Vessel. The research vessel is located at the DEM Division of Fish and Wildlife, Marine Fisheries laboratory at Ft. Wetherill, in Jamestown, RI. The R/V Chafee was named after the late Senator John H. Chafee who was instrumental in securing funding through a $625,000 federal grant, in addition to $285,000 in restricted state funds for boating purposes.

Far Left: Atlantic Torpedo w/ Assoc. Vessel Capt. Ken Benson (Ret.). Middle left: Butterfly Ray. Middle Right: Trawl net being deployed. Far Right: Example of a diverse catch.

During the spring of 2002, after years of planning, a request for proposals was sent out for a custom vessel to be built on a stock fiberglass hull. Marine Subcontractors Inc. of Southwest Harbor, Maine, secured the bid to finish the 50-foot Wesmac hull with a single 700 horsepower diesel engine, complete with hydraulics, rigging and electronics.

The R/V John H. Chafee was commissioned on June 7, 2004 and became a permanent member of the Marine Fisheries fleet. After a wave of comparative survey work to calibrate the previous vessel and gear to its new replacement, the Chafee became the Rhode Island Marine Fisheries Coastal Trawl Survey Vessel.

The R/V Chafee significantly enhanced the Department’s fisheries research capabilities, with its major role being to continue and expand the monthly and seasonal components of the coastal trawl survey. This survey is the basis for assessing the fish stocks and overall fishery health of Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island and Block Island Sounds.

About the Chafee:

The R/V Chafee is currently being and has been used for a number of projects of importance to Narragansett Bay. The research vessel was used monthly for the Mariner Shuttle surveys which covered the entirety of Narragansett Bay collecting real time data on the Bay’s water quality. It also deploys and retrieves data buoys annually for the Department’s Division of Water Resources, and retrieves cryptic habitats which monitor productivity of the offshore reefs created by the former Jamestown Bridge demolition. The vessel has also been used in multiple clam surveys. It has proved to be a vital platform for gaining knowledge of the Oceans State’s most precious natural resources.

The research vessel is piloted by Captain Richard Mello and Assistant Captain Patrick Brown and the Biological Principal Investigator, Scott Olszewski. The R/V Chafee is a 50-foot Wesmac hull with a Caterpillar engine generating 700 hp. Now in its ninth year of operation, the R/V John H. Chafee has proven to be an integral part of the Department’s mission “to ensure that the Freshwater, Marine, and Wildlife Resources of the State of Rhode Island will be conserved and managed for equitable and sustainable use.”

About the Survey:

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Division of Fish and Wildlife – Marine Fisheries Section, began monitoring finfish populations in Narragansett Bay in 1968, and continues through present day. The information collected provides monthly identification of finfish and crustacean assemblages in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island and Block Island Sounds.

Since the inception of the Rhode Island Coastal Trawl Survey, 5,764 tows have been conducted within Rhode Island territorial waters with data collected on 132 different species.

The methodology used in the allocation of sampling stations for the coastal trawl survey employs both random and fixed station allocations. Sampling stations were established by dividing Narragansett Bay into a grid of cells. The seasonal trawl survey is conducted in the spring and fall of each year and covers Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island and Block Island Sounds. Usually 44 stations are sampled each season. The monthly segment of the survey samples stations in Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound which are fixed sites.

At each station, an otter trawl equipped with a ¼ mesh inch liner is towed for twenty minutes at a speed of 2.5 knots, which translates into a distance of .83 nautical miles of sea floor covered.

Data on wind direction and speed, sea condition, air temperature and cloud cover as well as surface and bottom water temperatures, are recorded at each station. Catch is sorted by species. Length (cm/mm) is recorded for all finfish, skates, squid, scallops, whelk, lobster, blue crabs and horseshoe crabs. Similarly, weights (gm/kg) and numbers are recorded as well. Anecdotal information is also recorded for incidental plant and animal species.

Monitoring the State’s fishery resources is essential for assessing stock status and developing management advice to a number of fishery management agencies including the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), the Rhode Island Marine Fisheries Council (RIMFC) and the New England Fishery Management Council. Fisheries management has become increasingly reliant on fishery-independent surveys for resource information. Trawl survey results illustrate seasonal and monthly distribution trends, size/age composition, and indications of stock abundances. Conducted over many years, this survey provides trends in relative abundance and predictions of recruitment of many finfish species found throughout Rhode Island waters.

Besides ongoing data collection on the most important and common recreational fisheries, the coastal trawl survey also tracks the more uncommon visitors to Rhode Island waters. Some of which are occasionally found here and others being trapped tropical visitors from afar. Every year, around late summer to early fall, species normally found along the southern Atlantic coast are transported via the gulf stream and warm core rings, and deposited in and around Narragansett Bay. Species like Big Eye, Spot fin Butterfly fish, and Cobia are just a few that surprise even the most seasoned fishermen. Some years, more than others, the numbers and diversity of these species beg the question of changing ecosystems and more than ever warrant the need for continued monitoring of the coastal waters and bays of what is collectively called the Ocean State.

For more information on the Rhode Island DEM Coastal Trawl Survey please contact:

Scott Olszewski at the Fort Wetherill Marine Fisheries Lab
Jamestown, RI 02835 (401)423-1934

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