Editor’s Log: Hudson Canyon Zoo - The Fisherman

Editor’s Log: Hudson Canyon Zoo

This Wednesday, August 3 at 5 p.m. NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) will hold a virtual public hearing on the Biden administration’s proposal to designate a new national marine sanctuary at the Hudson Canyon.  The nomination of the Hudson as a potential marine sanctuary comes by way of the Wildlife Conservation Society which you may recognize as the environmental organization that runs various NY City zoos in the Bronx and Central Park, as well as the New York Aquarium.

In other words, locking up lions and tigers and bears in cages is okay, but fishing in the Hudson Canyon is suspect.

We’ve been down this road before.  As I wrote in April of 2017, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) voted down this sanctuary concept by a 15-4 majority, with rather vehement opposition by both commercial and recreational fishermen (the four council members who voted in favor of turning the Hudson Canyon into a National Marine Sanctuary were New York’s John McMurray, Maryland’s Ward Slacum, Pennsylvania’s Andrew Shiels and Virginia’s Peter deFur).  Hopefully Council will return a similar opposition vote when given the chance again, but even if they do, it will still ultimately be up to the Biden administration to decide how to proceed.

A marine sanctuary designation of the Hudson Canyon doesn’t have to mean a death sentence for fishermen.  By having a major voice on advisory councils tasked with managing activities in a sanctuary area we can ensure that recreational fishing is allowed, as management jurisdictions over Hudson Canyon fisheries remain under the auspice of the Council process.  The Hudson Canyon represents one of the most important and productive recreational fishing grounds on the eastern seaboard; protections against oil and gas exploration in the Hudson wouldn’t be a bad thing.

However, turning those canyon grounds into a zoo would be gross government over-reach without scientific support.  And honestly, I don’t have a lot of trust in the process; personal and professional experience leaves me rather cynical.  Back in 2016, NOAA Fisheries announced publication of a final rule for the Council to follow in designating a large offshore protected area for deep sea corals from the impacts of bottom-tending fishing gear.  This comprehensive deep sea coral protection in the submarine canyons included the Hudson Canyon; the so-called Frank R. Lautenberg Deep Sea Coral Protection Area now boasts many of the fishing gear restrictions that environmental groups like the Wildlife Conservation Society had sought.

As I had editorialized at the time, various fishing stakeholders worked with environmental activists in a collaborative effort to implement a sensible and science-based coral protection plan which would not adversely impact fishermen. In exchange for working together to move this deep sea coral protection forward, coastal fishermen were promised that efforts to turn the entire Mid-Atlantic canyon complex into a national marine sanctuary would be shelved by environmental groups.

But soon after the Lautenberg protections were implemented, the Wildlife Conservation Society hired Jason Patlis away from the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation to head up their Marine Conservation Program, and later that month, the same organization resubmitted their original plans to nominate the Hudson Canyon as a federal marine sanctuary to the federal government for review.

“I was given assurances that if the deep water corals were protected by NOAA in an agreement with the Mid-Atlantic council things like the monument designation would be off the table,” said John Nappo of Trophy Tackle out on Long Island at the time.  When asked his perspective of that process, getting promised one thing while seeing the opposite delivered, Nappo said “I feel betrayed to be honest.”

My hope is that recreational fishing groups and industry organizations will ensure that we’re not betrayed by the zookeepers and locked out of the Hudson Canyon fishery in the future.   Learn more and chime in at https://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/hudson-canyon.

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