A couple of months back, we told you the New York State Senate and Assembly had both voted for legislation to prohibit the taking of menhaden (bunker) by purse seining. Bill A2571 sponsored by Assemblyman Steven Englebright, and bill S2317 sponsored by Senator Todd Kaminsky, were drafted to protect this valuable forage species from being decimated by the highly efficient purse seine fleet. Since then, it has been awaiting Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature to become law. The governor made it official by signing off the bill on April 18th.
Kudos to Assemblyman Englebright, Senator Kaminsky, Governor Cuomo and all of the senators and assemblymen who signed onto the bill. We also owe a great deal of thanks to Carl Lobue and the Nature Conservancy for leading the charge on this important legislation, as well as too all of the Fisherman readers who responded to our requests that they contact their legislators and express their concerns about this issue.
The resurgence of bunker has been instrumental in restoring striped bass, whales, dolphins, bluefish, coastal sharks, predatory fish, seals, and seabirds, among other species to New York’s waters. This bill strengthens conservation efforts to protect this vital bait fish by prohibiting the commercial use of purse seines that can encircle and decimate entire schools of fish. Purse seine nets, some as large as six city blocks, are held down by weights at the bottom and buoyed by floats at the top edge that draw closed around the fish. An important commercial baitfish, menhaden are also harvested for production of fish oil, fertilizer, and fishmeal. Prohibiting the use of purse seines in New York’s waters supports our fishermen, who use more sustainable harvest methods, and increases their ability to access this valuable resource.
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 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 come 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.
Governor Cuomo noted, "this critical new law will help us further protect a vital fishery that supports species important to our sport fishing economy, as well as the majestic whales and other marine life that are once again returning to our state’s coastal waters."
Senator Todd Kaminsky said, "It is essential for tomorrow that we protect our planet today – especially the vital natural resources here on Long Island and across our state. I am thankful to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo for signing this legislation to protect the menhaden population – this important step will preserve a vital species in the Atlantic Ocean."
Assembly Member Steve Englebright said, "Often referred to as ‘the most important fish in the sea’ Menhaden are an important part of the diet of many fish including striped bass, bluefish, and whales. They are also consumed by sea birds. Local fishermen use the fish for bait. My legislation will protect our local waters from the kind of industrial overfishing that can devastate a species. I want to thank Governor Cuomo for signing this bill into law."