One of the concerns that is frequently heard when it comes to managing our marine resources is the issue of enforcement, or lack thereof. Department of Environmental Conservation Police are simply not adequately staffed nor equipped to provide the enforcement necessary to protect not only striped bass from the rampant poaching and illegal fishing that takes place on a regular basis in our waters, but also, blackfish, fluke, sea bass and scup, all key recreational species. The law breaking is rampant on both the commercial and recreational side, and it accounts for much larger harvest figures than fisheries managers are accounting for when considering management options. One of the biggest needs of the DEC Police is a vessel that would allow them to effectively patrol our near-shore and offshore waters – something that would provide the range necessary to cover the many miles of coastline that frame Long Island. Governor Andrew Cuomo has gone to great lengths to improve recreational fishing opportunities in the state through his NY Open for Fishing and Hunting Initiative. It has resulted in streamlining fishing licenses, reducing license fees, improving access through new boat launches and parking areas, the expansion of free fishing clinics, fish hatchery improvements, and the most ambitious reef building project in the state’s history. Yet, long before COVID-19 began wreaking havoc on state finances, and despite the fact that the Governor is seeking a three billion dollar Environmental Bond Act, his office of budget has been dragging its feet on accepting a $580,000 Port Security Grant to DEC’s Division of Law Enforcement (DLE), a grant that would allow the department to purchase a patrol vessel for offshore marine law enforcement.
Over the years DLE has diligently filed for these grants with which they have been able to purchase patrol boats and also utilize the grant money to maintain and repair existing boats. After the current grant was awarded in June 2019, DLE began to draw up specifications for a 44- foot offshore patrol vessel capable of hauling commercial fishing gear and providing offshore fisheries enforcement. DLE also provides NYS with a level of maritime homeland security by working closely with its marine enforcement partners in the marine district. A vendor was chosen as DLE eagerly awaited approval from the Governor’s Division of Budget (DOB). To date that has not come. In fact, there continue to be indications that DOB is refusing to move forward with the approval.
This is detrimental to New York marine fisheries and maritime security for several reasons. For one, DLE has one aging 1986 42 foot Duffy (Maine built lobster boat) patrol vessel capable of hauling commercial fishing gear. This includes off shore lobster gear and fish traps that, when left unchecked or set illegally can significantly impact the fishery. This vessel is in need of a minimum $50,000 repair to keep it seaworthy this season. A survey of the boat conducted over two years ago indicated the integrity of the vessel has been compromised and may be waterlogged, and the decks are in need being replaced again. Frankly, the vessel is well past its prime. On another note this vessel may be worth as much as $100,000 upon trade-in, making the total grant package worth approximately $700,000.
Secondly, should DOB fail to move forward and allow DLE to accept this grant, there is a chance that DLE could be blackballed from filing for another grant for at least five years.
Thirdly, DLE has enjoyed a relationship with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for over three decades. NMFS contracts with coastal state marine enforcement programs like DLE to do their marine fisheries enforcement work. This Joint Enforcement Agreement (JEA) currently provides DLE with over $500,000 each year that is used to purchase equipment and pay for marine patrols focused on federal fisheries enforcement. Without the ability to effectively conduct offshore patrols and haul federally regulated gear, this JEA program could be in jeopardy.