By Carl LoBue

Time is running out – time to again speak up for whales, bunker, and NY fishermen.

The resurgence of Atlantic Menhaden (AKA bunker) in NY waters over the past few years is something that a coalition of fishermen, scientists, and environmental advocates have been working towards for well over a decade.  But in NY we need to act now to assure that the bunker that are feeding our striped bass, bluefish, whales, and dolphins are safe from industrial-scale purse seine boats that can easily come and scoop up entire schools.  While no NY fishermen are currently harvesting schools of bunker with purse seines, our fish are increasingly attractive to out of state boats already fishing with these methods nearby.

In order to protect menhaden, as well as the marine mammals and industries that depend on their abundance, Long Island legislative leaders, Senator Ken LaValle and Assemblymember Steve Englebright, have introduced legislation (S8570/A10506-A) that prohibits harvesting bunker using purse seines in New York’s water.  A purse seine is a controversial method of harvesting that uses two boats to encircle entire schools of fish.  Eight other states already prevent this.  The New York Marine Resources Advisory Council, made up of recreational and commercial fishermen, unanimously supports this legislation, as does a coalition of NY party and charter boat captains, baymen, scientists, fishing clubs, and organizations.  And I believe that Governor Cuomo, who likes to fish and has invested in protecting Long Island’s waters, will understand the importance of signing it into law.

First, each house of the NYS legislature needs to pass the bill.  The Assembly has passed the bill, but with only a few weeks left in the 2018 legislative session, its passage through the NYS Senate remains in question. 

A simple call to your NYS Senator can really help.  If you don’t know who your NYS Senator is, you can look that up here. Call your senator today and ask that they pass Senate Bill 8570 this year. 

Below is the letter that many have already signed.

We the undersigned are in strong support of NY Bill number A10506-A(Englebright)/S08570 (Lavalle), which prohibits harvesting Atlantic menhaden (AKA bunker) with purse seines in New York State waters.  We urge that both houses pass the bill this legislative session.

This is an important and timely step that eight other Atlantic coastal states (NH, CT, DE, MD, NC, SC, GA, and FL), and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission have already taken to continue rebuilding the Atlantic Menhaden population.  If passed this will protect New York’s existing commercial, recreational, and for-hire fisheries and fishing support businesses that benefit when these keystone bait fish are abundant in our waters.  The resurgence of menhaden has also resulted in other marine wildlife returning to New York’s waters, including whales and dolphins.  Taking action now will protect and enhance a long list of marine wildlife and the burgeoning businesses that depend on them.

New York fishermen have not been using purse seines to harvest menhaden in New York waters for at least the past decade.  Purse seine is a large seine net, generally deployed by two boats, capable of encircling large schools of fish that are often located with spotter planes.  Once a school is encircled the net is cinched closed at the bottom and fish are hauled out.  The existing purse seine fleet in neighboring states is already harvesting close to a half billion lbs of Atlantic menhaden per year and is seeking to expand. 

The recent revival of menhaden in New York waters and the 2018 increase in New York states allocation, has sparked concern that, without this legislation, the use of purse seines in New York waters, which was extremely controversial in the past, will once again occur.  This would negatively impact marine wildlife and many of New York’s economically important fisheries including those for striped bass, bluefish, and weakfish.  It would also negatively impact New York’s baymen that currently harvest menhaden with low-overhead gears such as beach seines, pound nets, gill nets, and cast nets.   

In order to see the continued rebound of this keystone species, traditional fisheries and the businesses that they support, prohibiting the harvest of Atlantic menhaden with purse seines in New York state waters needs to be addressed through the passage of this critical legislation this legislative session.

The Nature Conservancy put together a few short teasers and an award winning 8 minute short film “Foraging the HIgh Seas: A Menhaden Story”, providing the perspective of five local stakeholders detailing why we need to protect the “most important fish in the sea”.