Parker River National Wildlife Refuge Announces Public Comment Period for Recreational Fishing Compatibility Determination

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge today opened a 20-day comment period for its compatibility determination (CD) to maintain existing beach fishing areas and seasons, in accordance with state regulations.  

The draft CD is open for public comment from July 13 through August 1. 

The CD signifies whether a proposed or existing use of a national wildlife refuge national wildlife refuge
A national wildlife refuge is typically a contiguous area of land and water managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  for the conservation and, where appropriate, restoration of fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

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is compatible with the refuge’s core mission and purpose. 

Recreational fishing is a priority public use on national wildlife refuges. Parker River is a premier fishing destination with over 200 beach parking spots and 5 boardwalk access points. The draft CD found that recreational fishing will not detract from the refuge’s core mission to conserve and protect migratory birds.  

Pedestrian fishing access will be permitted in accordance with state regulations, and night fishing access will continue by special permit.    

The draft CD found that fishing via off-road vehicles (ORV) would no longer be allowed, as the adverse effects associated with this specialized use detracts from the refuge’s core mission to protect migratory birds.  

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. They 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.  

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 plans to re-route and construct a new, accessible beach boardwalk at Lot 2 using future year deferred maintenance funds, as well as retrofitting beach boardwalk 3 so that it, too, is accessible. Together, these improvements will greatly expand access opportunities for mobility-challenged anglers. 

 

A flooded beach access trail at Parker River NWR.

 

Draft Compatibility Determination for Fishing - FAQs 

 

What is the action taking place? 

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge is opening a 20-day comment period (July 13 to August 1) for its draft compatibility determination (CD) to maintain existing beach fishing areas and seasons, in accordance with state regulations.  

 

What did the draft CD find? 

The draft CD found that fishing via off-road vehicles (ORV) would no longer be allowed, as the adverse effects associated with this specialized use does detract from the refuge’s core mission to protect migratory birds. As a result, the Refuge will be terminating the off-road vehicle program effective September 2022. 

 

Why is there a lottery for off-road vehicles this season if you are discontinuing the use? 

The refuge is moving forward with the ORV surf fishing lottery in the event the new CD is not finalized by September 1, the typical start of the ORV fishing season. Should ORVs be discontinued effective this year, refunds will be issued to lottery applicants. 

 

Why is the off-road vehicle program being terminated? 

Given current science in climate change climate change
Climate change includes both global warming driven by human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases and the resulting large-scale shifts in weather patterns. Though there have been previous periods of climatic change, since the mid-20th century humans have had an unprecedented impact on Earth's…

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, sea level rise, and shorebird population trends, use of off-road vehicles is no longer compatible with the refuge’s mission; it detracts from the core mission by disturbing migratory birds, degrading habitat, and exacerbating beach erosion rates. Changing beach conditions has also resulted in increased flooding, posing safety risks to people using off-road vehicles. Over the past two seasons, at least four vehicles are known to have become stuck in this corridor, requiring towing assistance and response by refuge and municipal law enforcement officers.

 

Is all recreational fishing being banned on the refuge? 

No. The draft CD found that recreational fishing will not detract from the refuge’s core mission to conserve and protect migratory birds. Pedestrian fishing access will be permitted in accordance with state regulations, and night fishing access will continue by special permit. Recreational fishing at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge includes surfcasting from the beach and fishing Plum Island Sound from the shores of Stage Island and Nelson Island in accordance with State seasons and regulations with some modifications.  

 
When is recreational fishing allowed on the refuge? 

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge is open to the public for recreational fishing year-round, during normal hours of operation (sunrise to sunset). Additionally, ‘walk-on’ (i.e., pedestrian) fishing is allowed at night on the Refuge beach, by permit, from roughly mid-July until November 15. Fishing along the ocean (i.e., Atlantic-facing) shoreline is subject to seasonal closures, typically south of Lot 1, during the shorebird nexting season (April 1 through approximately mid-August). 

 

What about anglers with specific accessibility needs? 

Staff will promote the existing, year-round opportunities for visitors with beach wheelchairs to access the beach via the Lot 1 administrative access trail. The refuge will continue to offer beach wheelchairs, free of charge. In addition, the refuge has plans to re-route and construct a new, accessible beach boardwalk at Lot 2 using future year deferred maintenance funds, as well as retrofitting beach boardwalk 3 so that it, too, is accessible. Together, these improvements will greatly expand access opportunities for mobility-challenged anglers. 

 

Where can I read the draft CD?  

The draft CD and supporting documentation are available on the refuge’s website (https://www.fws.gov/refuge/parker-river). Hard copies are also available at the Refuge Headquarters and Visitor Center (see address, below), Newburyport Public Library (94 State St, Newburyport, MA), and Newbury Public Library (0 Lunt St, Byfield, MA).  

Full-text documents:

Draft Compatibility Determination Full Text 

Effects of Off-Road Vehicles at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

 
Where can I submit my comment for the CD? 

The public must submit their comments in writing either by mail or email using the contact information provided below. 

Physical and mailing address: 

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge 
Attn: Refuge Manager/Fishing CD 
6 Plum Island Turnpike
Newburyport, MA 01950 

Email: parkerriver@fws.gov 

Include in subject line: ‘Fishing CD—public comment’ 

 

Story Tags

Coastal restoration
Coastal zone management
Coasts
Fishing
Habitat conservation
Habitat fragmentation
Habitat restoration
Landscape conservation
Marine ecology
Marine fish
Recreation
Sport fishing
Wildlife refuges

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