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Ocean Action Plan Updates

The implementation of New York's Ocean Action Plan works to support the achievement of tasks and actions identified within the OAP itself. With the help of DEC sponsored programs, competitive research grants, and monitoring and data collection priorities, DEC can make well informed decisions in conserving our ocean resources. Many of the sixty-one Actions are underway. Following the timelines identified within the OAP, regular updates will be provided through a State of the Ocean Report. DEC and our partners are leading the nation in effective ocean management.

Here is a closer look at some of the exciting projects we are working on through the New York Ocean Action Plan:

Bycatch reduction in New York Fisheries

As a result of congressional action, annual catch limits to end overfishing have proven to be effective for many federally managed fisheries. Though many fish stocks are considered rebuilt, the unintended catch rate (referred to as bycatch) remains uncertain. This leads to difficulty in creating effective management strategies. Additionally, bycatch has been identified as a significant source of mortality for several target and protected species like Atlantic Sturgeon, sea turtles, sea birds, and marine mammals.

In recent years, DEC has teamed up with NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), to increase coverage by the Northeast Fisheries Observer Program (link leaves DEC website). The program essentially is a platform to guide fishery decision-making, especially regarding bycatch. The program uses range observer coverage, which helps researchers gain statistically significant data. This program also estimates the potential costs of ranges in a National Observer Program (link leaves DEC website). This well-conceived design remains essential for valid estimates of bycatch, especially for protected and managed marine species. This project not only protects endangered marine mammals, but also fulfills goals laid out by Actions 9 and 25 of the OAP.

Inshore Trawl and Monitoring Survey

Fish being measured

Monitoring programs establish baseline information and long-term data fishery managers use to understand distribution, abundance, and demographics of various fish species. This information is vital to understanding stock structure, habitat residency, site fidelity, habitat preferences and migration patterns. The Northeast Fisheries Science Center (link leaves DEC website) multispecies bottom trawl survey, operating in federal waters of the Atlantic Ocean Offshore Study Area, provides data for stock assessments for many important commercial and recreational species. However, this survey evaluates waters exclusively out of New York's three mile boundary, leaving many areas unsampled.

In 2006, a state-federal cooperative inshore trawl survey was established to cover areas not federally mandated. The NEAMAP Fishery Survey is an integrated, cooperative, data collection program that seeks to sample inshore areas. The information provided by the survey remains crucial for management, informing stock abundance, catch limits, and multispecies stock assessments. The additional benefits include: biological and environmental sampling, species demographics, and tagging opportunities for endangered species. Currently, NEAMAP is funded by the State and NOAA, however, additional sampling stations have been suggested as a cost effective way to obtain more comprehensive data.

The Peconic Bay Habitat Data Integration Program, which integrates fish trawl, water quality, and benthic mapping data sets, help survey and monitor inshore areas. The final report from this work found that there have been significant changes to fish communities in recent years from cold water to warmer water species. This is attributed to climatic factors including increases in temperature of the bay, chlorophyll levels, and changing coastal fish migration patterns.

The integration of both of these projects, along with the SoMAS NY Bight Monitoring Project, establishes an interdisciplinary, multi-trophic level-ocean monitoring program that provides better information about marine organisms. These programs not only help DEC manage and survey inshore fish species within state waters, but also contribute to a broader monitoring template that could be used in the entire Mid-Atlantic region. Within a 10-year timeframe, New York is expected to gain the most critically needed components for ecological monitoring. These projects help define the appropriate course of action for Actions 9 and 10 of the OAP.

River Herring in the Hudson Estuary

River Herring being examined

River Herring were once an economically important species for both recreational and commercial fisheries. Ecologically, river herring serve as a forage base for many other NY fish species. Currently, the fishery located in the Hudson River, exploits herring as bait for larger fish species like striped bass.

Historically, degraded habitat and fishery pressure caused a tremendous decline in herring abundance. To address the overall decline, Amendment 2 to the ASMFC Shad and River Herring (link leaves DEC website) Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) was put in place to ensure the sustainable harvest of river herring on the Hudson River and closed river herring fisheries elsewhere in New York State. The Sustainable Fishing Plan for New York River Herring Stocks (PDF, 1.15 MB) requires monitoring (the Hudson Estuary River Herring Monitoring program) which collects biological data, including indices of abundance and size composition, of the stock. This data collection provides a basis for future sustainable adjustments of river herring and carries out goals set out by Action 12.

Atlantic Surfclams in New York State Waters

The DEC conducts routine Atlantic Surfclam population surveys and collects scientific information on surfclam growth and recruitment. The Surfclam Survey Project conducts two surveys, over three years, to determine biomass, total number of individual clams, and recruitment. The survey uses an ocean research vessel for data collection. The complied data is then used to assess population biomass, and establish annual harvest limits. This project ensures the sustainable management of surf clams and relates to Action 13.

Blue Crab Abundance in the Great South Bay

Blue Crab

Blue crab populations in Great South Bay have experienced dramatic increases since the 1990's. Though the ecological role of blue crabs remains unclear, researchers believe blue crabs remain important consumers of winter flounder. Increases in ocean temperature appear to be related to rising local blue crab abundance. To better understand why abundance has risen, the Blue Crab in the Marine District Project (PDF, 1.5 MB) collects information and provides a management based approach for the species. The inshore trawling survey, as outlined by Action 10, monitors and assesses relative blue crab abundance. This project helps provide vital information about blue crab management and carries out strategies identified in Action 16.

Explanations for Winter Flounder Declines

Winter flounder is an estuarine flatfish species that once held commercial and recreational value throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Today, stock abundance remains at record lows despite governmental efforts to eradicate overfishing. With help from the Ocean and Great Lakes funding, research is now conducted on the South Shore of Long Island to determine the causes behind species decline. Winter flounder research (link leaves DEC website) indicates that this species experiences high mortality rates due to predation, elevated temperature, and other environmental stressors. As outlined by Action 28, DEC and SUNY Stony Brook will further investigate natural and anthropogenic factors affecting the decline of winter flounder.

Marine Resources Advisory Council (MRAC)

Marine Resources Advisory Council logo

The Marine Resources Advisory Council (MRAC) was enacted in 1987 to advise the DEC on several marine resource issues, such as: commercial and recreational fishing, proposed regulations, and the protection and utilization of New York's valuable marine resources. MRAC holds various responsibilities and helps DEC manage fisheries sustainably. Some of the duties include: the review of expenditures for fisheries and report findings to the DEC Commissioner, issue of reports regarding DEC's marine resources program to commercial and recreational harvesters, consultation with commercial and recreational harvesters, and the review of regulations. The council consists of fifteen members: seven representatives from both the states commercial and recreational fishing industries, the Dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) and others. As outlined in Action 29 of the OAP, there are plans to include an internet platform and website for improved communication between the council and the community for increased engagement. MRAC meets up to 6 to 8 times annually. These meetings are open to the public and are often located at the Division of Marine Resources, headquartered at 205 N. Belle Mead Rd, East Setauket, Long Island. For more information on the schedule or agenda of meetings, please visit SUNY Stony Brook's MRAC website (link leaves DEC website).

Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics Program

The Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics Program (ACCSP) (link leaves DEC website) is a cooperative state-federal program that develops, implements, and operates fishery data collection and management systems. This program partners with federal and state agencies, as well as various local commissions, to ensure there are standards for the collection and processing of common fisheries data. ACCSP also runs a depository for state and federal collected fishery data, and integrated all collected data into a single management system. In this way, all state and federal fishery managers, researchers, and fishermen can operate using the same system.

Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics Program

In order to effectively monitor and manage New York's fishery dependent data, DEC staff and contracted ASMFC staff work together to collect, review, and process landings data from NYS licensed fishermen and seafood dealers. Proper ACCSP standards remain enforced for the collection, correcting and entering of commercial fishing catch and landings analysis. This information is used for stock assessments, quota management and state fishery quota allocations. To ensure the continuation of the ACCSP Program in NY, the Comm. Fishery VTR Data Entry Project was issued as a data collection device for ACCSP. This project captures important information on landings, fish stock assessments, and fisher management plans for the state. These two items, combined with a new permit system will allow for timely reporting of harvest data. Actions 29 and 11 bring together all of these pieces to eventually form a Fishery Management and Policy Advisory Program to support our New York fishers. For more information please visit the DEC sponsored ACCSP and Electronic Reporting website.