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Marine Protected Species

Photograph of a humpback whale feeding in the Great South Channel
Humpback whale feeding in the Great South Channel.
Photo by: Nicole Starkweather

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) Marine Protected Resources Unit is responsible for the management and conservation of marine animals that are protected under the Endangered Species Act (endangered or threatened species) and/or protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. We work in close coordination with federal partners at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Fisheries and other partners within the state of New York.

Our current focus is on endangered Atlantic sturgeon and large whales. We are also working on the further development of programs for endangered sea turtles and other marine mammals which are either threatened or endangered. These species overlap with a number of human activities while in New York waters such as ship traffic, commercial and recreational fishing activities and, in the future, wind energy development. They are also impacted by pollution and the consequences of climate change.

While these activities are potential threats to these animals, many of them are also extremely beneficial to our State's economy and its citizens. Our first priority is to provide adequate protection to these animals and continue developing methods to conserve them. An additional goal is to find solutions that will allow legal human activities that positively contribute to the state of New York to remain sustainable.

Monitoring Protected Marine Life

New York Bight Whale Monitoring Program

Photograph of humpback whale, property of NYSDEC and Tetra Tech
Aerial photograph of a humpback whale. (Property of NYSDEC
and the aerial survey contractor, Tetra Tech).
Photo by: Kate Lomac-MacNair

10th Large Whale Aerial Survey Completed

On February 9th, the 12th aerial survey of the New York Bight Whale Monitoring Program was completed by the state's contractor, Tetra Tech. The aerial surveys, which began in March, are conducted monthly for the next three years as part of New York State's effort to establish baseline data on large whales in the New York Bight. The Monitoring Program is focused on six large whale species (sei, sperm, humpback, fin, blue, and North Atlantic right whales). Sightings of sea turtles and other marine mammals are also being recorded as time allows. Four of the priority whale species have been seen so far: fin, humpback, sperm, and North Atlantic right whales. Other species seen include minke whales, Cuvier's beaked whales, long-finned pilot whales and several species of dolphins. In the February survey, 17 individual whales and about 375 other marine mammals were recorded. No sea turtles were observed during this survey. An acoustic survey, also set to run for three years beginning mid-September, will complement the visual surveys by listening for the presence of whales.

For More Information about the New York Bight Whale Monitoring Program visit the New York Bight Whale Monitoring Program webpage. Visit the Marine Mammals of New York Page for additional information about large whales found in New York.

Help Atlantic Sturgeon by Reporting Sightings

Photograph of a reported Atlantic Sturgeon
Photograph of a reported Atlantic sturgeon.

Why These Sighting Reports are Important

The Atlantic sturgeon is an archaic, anadromous species that was declared endangered in 2012 by NOAA, Fisheries Service. Atlantic sturgeon are commonly found off the coast of Long Island during the spring and fall. During this time, carcasses may wash up on beaches (most commonly ocean beaches, but also in the LI Sound) as Atlantic sturgeon may be killed or injured during a number of activities such as commercial fishing and boating. It is important to collect information on these wash ups in order to better conserve the species. We request that members of the public report any Atlantic sturgeon they may encounter, live or dead.

How To Report a Sighting

If you encounter an Atlantic sturgeon in ocean habitats, including Long Island Sound, please call (631) 444-0462. To report an Atlantic sturgeon in the Hudson River region, please call (845) 256-3073 or (845) 256-3199.

For More Information about Atlantic Sturgeon
please read our educational pamphlet, Help to Conserve Atlantic and Shortnose Sturgeon (PDF) and visit the Atlantic sturgeon webpage.

Increased Fishery Observer Coverage

Fishery observer measuring a striped bass
Fishery observer measuring a striped bass

Why Observer Coverage Has Been Increased

The DEC has provided funds to NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Observer Program (NEFOP) to increase observer coverage of commercial fishing vessels landing catch in New York and fishing using trawls, gillnets or pot/traps. The increased coverage began in December of 2015 and will remain in effect until 03/31/2019. It may be extended after that if funding is available. State only permit holders may now be selected for observer coverage in addition to those fishing with federal or state and federal permits.

The goal of these trips is to collect information on protected species including marine mammals, sea turtles and Atlantic sturgeon. The primary reason this is happening is because Atlantic sturgeon are currently listed as endangered in the New York Region and, therefore, the state must apply for an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) for commercial fisheries landing in New York which may encounter these fish. In order for these fisheries to remain open the state must comply with this federal requirement. The state needs better information on the incidental captures of Atlantic sturgeon during legal fishing activities in order to be able to complete this application. The best way to get this data is through observer coverage. However, the existing level of coverage is too low to provide adequate information. In addition, there is no information on bycatch by state only vessels. Therefore, the state is augmenting this coverage through NOAA in order to gather the best available data for the ITP application.

NOAA has the authority to send observers on the vessels of state only permit holders

These are protected resources trips, the authorization for NOAA to put fisheries observers on the trips of state only permit holders falls under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act and Management Act (MSA) or Endangered Species Act (ESA).

For More Information and Questions about the Fishery Observer Program visit the NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Observer Program website for more information (link leaves DEC's website). For any recent updates, please visit the Fishery Observer Coverage page. Questions can be directed to the DEC at (631) 444-0462 or NOAA, NEFOP at (508) 495-2266.