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TIMOTHY: Alright so we’re gonna drop these guys in our – we have water going, a bouillon of sorts.

RUDIN: So, Antonia, a couple weeks ago I met up with Jason Timothy. He’s the creative culinary director and co-owner of a restaurant called Troop.

TIMOTHY: That's gonna cook for about, you know, three or four minutes or until they turn a little bit red.

RUDIN: We were in his kitchen in Providence, cooking up blue crabs.

AYRES-BROWN: Okay that’s interesting because I mostly think of blue crabs as being a Maryland thing.

Rudin: Yeah, I grew up in Baltimore, and they are everywhere. You’ve got crab cakes, soft shell crabs, crab dip… restaurants where they steam tons and tons of crabs, coat them in Old Bay, and dump them on a table for you to hammer open. It’s the official state crustacean, and Maryland’s most valuable fishery.

AYRES-BROWN: That sounds so good, and it also kind of sounds like what quahogs or calamari are to Rhode Island. So, do blue crabs live around here too?

RUDIN: Yes, but you can only fish them recreationally because the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management says the population is too small to support a commercial fishery.

But that could be changing. I talked to Katie Rodrigue, a DEM biologist, about this.

RODRIGUE: So one of the factors that sort of keeps the blue crab population lower in its northern range is its winter mortality. So when waters get cold, around 50 degrees or so, they start to actually go dormant, and they'll just sort of like hunker down in the sediment.

RUDIN: Our winters are getting warmer. And scientists think that, because of climate change, the temperatures in Narragansett Bay could become more like the Chesapeake – and the blue crab population could really take off.

AYRES-BROWN: So blue crabs are one of these examples of species that could expand in the Northeast because of warmer temperatures. But I imagine this isn’t just affecting blue crabs, right? I’ve heard also about lobster and winter flounder becoming more rare here.

RUDIN: Yep, and other historically more southern species are becoming more common, including scup, striper, sea robin, and dogfish. And the one people mentioned to me over and over as the poster child of the impact of climate change is black sea bass.

There are these maps of the black sea bass biomass distribution over time. And you can see that the species used to be centered sort of off Virginia and the Carolinas. But over the last few decades, the center of the population has shifted north, towards New England.

AYRES-BROWN: So what does this mean for our region? Are Rhode Island fishermen already seeing this change, in terms of what they’re catching?

RUDIN: Yeah, they are. I talked to Fred Mattera, a long-time fisherman who now leads the Commercial Fisheries Center of Rhode Island. And with black sea bass especially, he said the population has just exploded.

MATTERA: They're everywhere. And they're all sizes, you know, from little babies, to some things that weigh four or five pounds. They're big, mature females and males. Everybody catches them. Pot fishermen catch ‘em. Lobstermen catch ‘em. Gill netters, trawlers… you know, everybody's catching them because they’re so prolific.

AYRES-BROWN: It sounds like that could be a good thing for fishermen here.

RUDIN: Yeah. The thing is, Fred says regulators have been slow to shift quotas to keep up with this change.

MATTERA: It's so slow, so slow, it's ridiculous. As fishermen we live in real time, you know. I go last night and I’m fishing out there today, and I’m seeing all these sea bass. And the key here is we need to start to change the quotas. We got to increase the quotas.

RUDIN: Rhode Island’s quota for black sea bass was increased slightly. But it takes time for scientists to measure these population shifts and analyze that data. And then the process for splitting quota among the states is political, and Rhode Island doesn’t have a seat on one of the councils that makes that decision.

So as species like black sea bass shift north, more of them may move out of their traditional rangewhich is where some of these regulatory decisions get madeinto more northern waters.

AYRES-BROWN: Okay so even if the fish are moving, there are these human systems – like how we catch fish, how we set quotas, how we package and market and sell the fish – that need to adapt, too. Are people trying to get ahead of these changes?

RUDIN: Yeah. Blue crabs are one example of that. So just this year, Rhode Island DEM started tracking the population of blue crabs here. And the idea is to start collecting data before a potential population boom so that if there are enough crabs to support a commercial fishery, DEM will be ready to regulate it and allow fishermen to take advantage of that new opportunity. Here’s Katie Rodrigue, from DEM, again:

RODRIGUE: You know, for example, maybe there's a fisher that targeted lobsters in the past, and that's not really feasible now. In the future, potentially, that effort could go to blue crabs, if their population levels allow it.

AYRES-BROWN: Okay, and then I imagine you’d need businesses ready to distribute and sell the crabs. Like, in Maryland I know they have crab-processing companies that pick the meat out of the shells and package it. But we don’t have those kinds of businesses here.

RUDIN: Yeah. So remember those crabs chef Jason Timothy was cooking? He got them through a study that’s trying to start to grapple with the questions you’re raising.

MASURY: The goal of this project is kind of to look forward, and look at, okay, what will the ecosystem look like here in the future?

RUDIN: That’s Kate Masury, who leads an organization called Eating with the Ecosystem. She and an economist at URI are talking to all these fishing-adjacent businesses about how they might adapt to handle new species moving into the area. And they’re supplying six different southern or mid-Atlantic fish species to Rhode Island restaurants, with the idea that these imports could be the local species of the future. And they’re asking chefs and customers about how they liked the fish.

MASURY: We need to have markets for our catch. And the supply chain plays a big role in that.

AYRES-BROWN: So it seems like they want to get people to start thinking about buying these fish as they become more available. That kind of reminds me of the challenges we talked about yesterday with getting people to eat more scup.

RUDIN: Exactly. The final piece of the puzzle is kind of a cultural shift. Like, let’s say there’s tons of crabs in Narragansett Bay, DEM allows people to catch them commercially, distributors are ready to pack and sell them… Are restaurants and consumers gonna buy them?

AYRES-BROWN: Yeah, and food culture is so tied to places and their history, especially in New England, which is so provincial. So what did Jason think about the crab? Is Troop gonna start serving blue crabs, if they can find them locally?

RUDIN: It was kind of a mixed review. Jason said picking the meat out is just a ton of work, and the pre-picked meat is expensive. But he’s not ruling it out.

TIMOTHY: As much as it is a pain to deal with, it’s so good. It really is.

RUDIN: As he was picking the meat out of the first batch of crabs, we both popped a morsel in our mouths.

TIMOTHY: Nice and sweet.

RUDIN: Mm. Oh so good. Really good.

TIMOTHY: You still get that nice briney, sea-water… a little of the bouillon, you get a little of that flavor in there.

RUDIN: And blue crab isn’t the only species that’s part of this experiment. The restaurants are working through six species. And we’ll put more info on our website about which restaurants are participating.

AYRES-BROWN: And there’s a couple weeks left in the experiment, so there’s still a chance to get a sample of the next species on the docket. For the Public’s Radio, I’m Antonia Ayres-Brown.

RUDIN: I’m Sofie Rudin.

More information about the restaurant experiment with URI and Eating with the Ecosystem, including a list of participating restaurants, is available here.

This is the second part in a two-part series. Click here to listen to the first part.

Antonia Ayres-Brown is the Newport Reporter for The Public’s Radio and a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at

Sofie Rudin is the Science and Environment Reporter for The Public’s Radio and can be reached at