Lobster boats in Port of Galilee, RI

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) today announced that it has enacted a new, no-cost Direct Sale Dealer License.

DEM says that this action will “help foster the continued viability of the Rhode Island commercial seafood industry during the COVID-19 public health crisis”.

According to DEM, this authorizes commercial fishermen in Rhode Island to sell certain species of finfish, and to sell and transport for sale live lobsters and crabs, directly to consumers and licensed seafood retailers from the vessel on which they were harvested.

“There is a growing demand for local seafood during this critical time, and we’re fortunate that our commercial harvesters are able to meet the needs of residents with the abundant seafood resources available off our coast,” said DEM Director Janet Coit in a press release provided by DEM. “Rhode Islanders can take pride in knowing that when they purchase fresh local seafood, at local retailers or right off the boat from harvesters, they are helping to keep a vital part of our economy – our commercial fishing and seafood industry – up and running.”

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The new license, enacted via an emergency regulation filed on April 17, helps address the economic hardships facing the RI commercial fishing and seafood industry, as well as food insecurities facing many RI consumers, caused by the COVID-19 crisis, according to DEM. The new direct-sale opportunity supports the development of new, local supply chains for RI seafood. As an emergency regulation, the measure will remain in effect for up to 120 days.

DEM developed the emergency regulation in close collaboration with the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH). It preserves the existing rules for molluscan shellfish and certain species of finfish that require special handling, which must continue to be sold by harvesters to licensed seafood wholesalers.

Under the new Direct Sale Dealer License, finfish species subject to direct sale include any legally harvested species, except striped bass, and except all “histamine-producing” finfish species, which are listed in the regulation.  For eligible species of finfish, the new license authorizes their dockside sale directly to consumers and licensed retail establishments, such as seafood markets and restaurants. Examples of eligible finfish species include: summer flounder, black sea bass, scup, tautog, monkfish, hake, haddock, cod, winter flounder, weakfish, dogfish, skate, and butterfish.

While dockside sales of live lobsters and crabs to consumers have been allowed for many years, and remain authorized under the existing dockside sales endorsement, the new Direct Sale Dealer License extends this opportunity to include dockside sales to retail establishments, as well as the transport and sale of live lobsters and crabs to consumers and retailers.

According to DEM, the new license is available, at no cost, to resident commercial fishermen in RI licensed to harvest finfish and/or crustaceans.  Upon obtaining the new license, fishermen may engage in direct sales, subject to several requirements governing harvest, handling, reporting, and sale activities. The requirements include:

  • All direct sales must strictly adhere to all applicable health and safety directives governing customer-facing food businesses, including social distancing, preventing customers from congregating at or near the point of sale, and the wearing of face coverings. Drive-up dockside sales are strongly encouraged – and required in Galilee.
  • All direct-sale activities must be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable municipal laws, as well as applicable regulations and polices governing port and marina operations.
  • Direct sales of finfish are applicable only to whole fish, fish that are headed/gutted, or live fish. Direct sales are applicable only to fish that have been caught/harvested the same day. While on board the vessel, all fish must be kept shaded, cooled, and/or on ice.
  • Lobsters and crabs must be kept shaded and cooled and must be alive at point of sale.
  • For all species subject to sale pursuant to the new Dealer License, strict reporting requirements must be met.  Harvester reports must be completed in full and be available for inspection prior to any species being sold. In addition, all sales must be reported to DEM in accordance with standard electronic dealer reporting requirements.

DEM had developed detailed guidance governing authorization and use of the new license, including best practices to keep fishermen, their crew, and their customers healthy and safe during direct-sale activities.  The guidance is available here: http://www.dem.ri.gov/programs/marine-fisheries/commercial-reporting.php

Applications for the new license may be submitted electronically, via this link: www.dem.ri.gov/directsales.

The emergency regulations are available here: https://rules.sos.ri.gov/regulations/part/250-90-00-15

DEM advises everyone to follow guidance about COVID-19 from Governor Raimondo and RIDOH. More information about COVID-19 and Rhode Island’s response can be found here: https://health.ri.gov/diseases/ncov2019/

For information on DEM programs and initiatives, visit www.dem.ri.gov.

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