As the summer fishing season is in full swing, and anglers like me ply the waters off Long Island for striped bass, the State Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo have taken an important step to a healthy future for the fishery.
In April, under the leadership of State Senator Todd Kaminsky, State Assemblyman Steve Englebright and the governor, the state banned the practice of purse seining for Atlantic menhaden, a baitfish often called the most important fish in the sea.
By protecting menhaden, New York is helping to ensure a sustainable food supply for striped bass, whales and other species that rely on menhaden as a key food source. This is great news for New York fishermen and the businesses that rely on the millions of dollars spent by them every year.
New York has joined a club of states that have banned industrial menhaden fishing in their own waters. In fact, only Virginia still allows it, and their fishery catches hundreds of millions of menhaden annually. These fish are taken out of the food chain, reduced to fish meal and sold on an international commodities market to feed pets, pigs and farmed salmon. Omega Protein, owned by Canadian Cooke Inc., is the only company that still employs this antiquated fishing method, which puts predators and the whole marine ecosystem at risk.
According to the latest science, industrial fishing for menhaden depresses the striped bass population by almost 30 percent. That’s because the fishery removes a huge percentage of the food that striped bass rely on. Given that striped bass are now overfished, it’s outrageous that fishery managers allow this to continue.
That’s why New York’s leadership must do even more to protect menhaden. Banning reduction fishing in state waters is a good first step, but leading the regional fight to leave more menhaden in the water is what must happen next.
Later this year and early next, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which manages menhaden, will vote to move to a management system that takes into account menhaden’s critical role in the ecosystem. The chairman of the ASFMC is New York’s DEC marine fisheries director, Jim Gilmore.
Without New York’s leadership on this issue, special interests will win out and the ecosystem will suffer again. Gov. Cuomo, with the help of Jim Gilmore, has the opportunity to be a champion not only for New York fishermen but for the entire Atlantic Coast.
By the time striped bass season rolls around again next year, we will know whether New York capitalized on its local conservation success or whether they missed a big one.
John GansNortheast Field Representative
Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
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