What started as a YouTube comment on The Fisherman’s channel and then a couple of emails proceeding that following week with a couple of phone calls mixed and even a call from a report contributor was something that I couldn’t ignore. Every single one of these reports was of boats netting bunker off the South Shore of Long Island. Some of these took place on the western end, closer to the city, while others were reported from the Hamptons stretch. If only one report came to me, I might not even be writing this editorial, but multiple in a short period of time does sound an alarm, and these reports were also said to be close to the beach, which would be state waters.
But a little about menhaden first. Bunker were historically abundant in New York’s waters until overfishing reduced their populations significantly. Since 2012, when the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission acted to restore the menhaden population, the fish have slowly rebounded. In addition, DEC increased harvest reporting requirements in 2011 to better track New York bait landings. New York’s focused management has resulted in a healthier, older, and larger menhaden population.
Menhaden are also sensitive to oxygen levels in the water and regularly die off by the thousands when large schools enter confined waters in hot weather. Scores of the dead fish often wash ashore, polluting beaches and producing unpleasant odors, and removing them comes at a significant cost to affected municipalities. To help prevent such situations, the new law includes an important provision that allows DEC to issue a temporary order that authorizes the use of purse seines to reduce the population when there is an imminent risk of a fish kill. But the reports I’ve been getting have not been DEC-issued orders either.
But anyway, back to the research on the topic. In 2019, the New York State Senate and Assembly both voted for legislation to prohibit the taking of menhaden (bunker) by purse seining in state waters (within three miles of the beach). Bill A2571, sponsored by Assemblyman Steven Englebright, and bill S2317, sponsored by Senator Todd Kaminsky, was drafted to protect this valuable forage species from being decimated by the highly efficient purse seine fleet. The former governor, Andrew Cuomo, made it official by signing off the bill on April 18th of that year.
Before I jumped to any conclusions, I did some further research to find out whether or not Governor Hochul had done anything to remove the ban on purse seining bunker in state waters, and after spending a significant amount of time searching the web, I came up with nothing. I also put in several calls to the DEC to talk to my contacts and a few of my friends in the know about fisheries legislation and politics. They all knew nothing about the current administration allowing this to take place.
Some of the rumors going around were that these boats were coming down from Canada, while others suggested that they were coming up from Virginia and were clearing out the bunker from the beach area to draw away the sharks. Still, no solid proof of any of this. After contacting enforcement, they let me know they heard similar rumors but did not catch any of these boats in the act.
Still, I have not seen any video or pictures of these boats working within state waters, netting bunker illegally. Remember, if it’s outside of three miles, it is legal. The best piece of advice I could give is to utilize the DEC hotline by calling 1-844-DEC-ECOS (1-844-332-3267). This number can be called 24 hours out of the day anonymously to report these kinds of activities, and if an office on duty is close by, they will investigate it. Also, if you are able to capture any of these things taking place, send the pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org.