By Alex Kuffner | Courtesy of the Providence Journal[divider style=”solid” color=”#eeeeee” width=”1px”]

NARRAGANSETT — Narragansett Bay is cleaner and clearer than it’s been in decades.

But after huge strides in treating wastewater and controlling storm runoff, some are asking a question that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago about what is arguably Rhode Island’s most valuable natural resource:

Is the Bay too clean?

Fishermen are raising the issue after seeing steep declines in numbers of flounder, lobster and other species that were once so abundant that they formed the bedrock of their industry.

It has gotten bad enough that lobsterman Al Eagles says that he and others now call the Bay “Chernobyl,” a reference to the site of the devastating Soviet-era nuclear disaster.

“We have to ask ourselves, ’What is taking place in the Bay that has changed it from a resilient bay to a dead bay?” Eagles, who has fished for 45 years, said Wednesday at an annual marine affairs forum held at the University of Rhode Island.

Lanny Dellinger, board member of the Rhode Island Lobstermen’s Association, put the blame on a tightening of restrictions on wastewater treatment plants after the historic Greenwich Bay fish kill in 2003 that over the past 10 years or so has cut in half the amount of nutrients that flows into the Bay.

“It seemed to be happening in sequence with the timing of nitrogen reductions,” Dellinger said, pointing out that such nutrients are key to the growth of phytoplankton, a critical food source for marine life. “I used to see unbelievable amounts of life, but I started to see that change in the mid-2000s.”

The men spoke at the 16th annual Ronald C. Baird Sea Grant Science Symposium at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography in Narragansett, an event aimed at fostering discussion and developing research projects.

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