Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Final Compatibility Determination for Fishing: U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service Decision On Plum Island Over The Sand Vehicle Use

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) announced it will move forward with its Compatibility Determination (CD) to maintain existing beach fishing areas and seasons, in accordance with state regulations. 

The decision follows a 20-day public comment period, during which the refuge received 83 comments on the draft CD. Parker River NWR offers some of the best recreational surf casting beaches in Massachusetts, and fishing has a long and successful history at the refuge. The CD found that fishing, provided stipulations outlined in the CD are followed, is compatible with the mission and purpose of the refuge. All areas and seasons previously open to fishing will continue to be open, with the addition of the shoreline access to Stage Island (new since the last fishing CD was written) and the expansion of the fishing area at Nelson Island. Public comments universally supported the notion of maintaining fishing access.

The CD determined that use of off-road vehicles (ORVs) for fishing detracts from the mission of the refuge due to adverse effects on (1) migratory birds, (2) shoreline and dune habitat, and (3) public safety. Regional, continental, and global shorebird populations have declined drastically and ORVs have been shown to negatively affect shorebirds and their habitats more than other recreational uses. ORVS increase the rate of beach and dune erosion, which is more problematic now as rising sea levels and increased storm intensity are adversely affecting refuge habitat. The result is a steeper, narrower beach, which can no longer support safe and sustainable use of ORVs.

Most public comments (59%) supported discontinuing the ORV fishing program. All comments were analyzed, and the final CD edited to reflect public input. A summary is available on the refuge website (see below).

The final CD maintains fishing areas and seasons but discontinues ORVs, effective this season. This change aligns with management of all surrounding public beaches, including the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation’s beach management policies state-wide.

Staff will promote the existing, year-round opportunities for visitors with beach wheelchairs to access the beach via the Lot 1 administrative access trail as well as provide loaner beach wheelchairs, free of charge. In addition, the refuge will re-route and construct a new, accessible beach boardwalk at Lot 2 using future year deferred maintenance funds, retrofit beach boardwalk 3, and install new Mobi-Mats as needed to improve accessibility. Together, these improvements will greatly expand access opportunities for mobility-challenged anglers. The refuge will issue refunds to this year’s ORV surf fishing lottery applicants.