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Marine Protected Resources

Report any sightings of marine mammals to DEC by using our Flipper Files digital survey. If you suspect a marine mammal or sea turtle is sick or injured, please call the New York Stranding Hotline at 631-369-9829 to report the animal.

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 Ocean Action Plan (OAP) outlines long-term goals and actions led by the State for a healthier ocean ecosystem that will benefit both people and the environment, and several activities and programs in the OAP involve important marine protected resources. These species often overlap with a number of human activities in New York waters such as boat traffic, commercial and recreational fishing activities, and offshore wind energy development, as well as pollution and the consequences of climate change. Ensuring protection of these species while also allowing legal activities that positively contribute to New York State to remain sustainable is our primary focus. Marine protected resources in New York State include:

Stranding Response & Responsible Viewing

The number of large whale stranding events, cold stunned sea turtles, and human interactions with seals have increased in recent years. New York residents may find themselves in the presence of these animals more frequently, and DEC urges all beach visitors to have safe and respectful experiences in the vicinity of marine mammals and sea turtles.

Stranding Response

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries) Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program authorizes and oversees stranding response in all coastal states and includes dozens of network partners around the country.

In New York State, stranding response for marine mammals and sea turtles is carried out by two permitted organizations the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society (AMSEAS) and the New York Marine Rescue Center (NYMRC) (links leave DEC website). The New York Stranding Response Hotline(631) 369-9829 provides 24-hour response to sick, injured, and deceased marine mammals and sea turtles. The New York Stranding Implementation Plan (2017) was developed by NOAA, DEC, AMSEAS, and NYMRC and outlines roles, identifying standard operating procedures, and streamlining communication to improve efficiency.

Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding Basics

Stranding events of marine mammals and sea turtles can be both naturally occurring events or a potential result from human activity. DEC's goal for every stranding event is that trained and authorized professionals are able to assess the animal and determine the best course of action. Stranding events are organized into three types:

Stranding: An event occurring on a beach or in shallow water in which a marine mammal or sea turtle is:

  • dead;
  • alive and unable to return to the water on its own;
  • alive and in need of medical assistance before returning to the water; or
  • alive and unable to survive. Note: A stranding event itself may cause or add to serious injury to the animal.

The cause of a stranding can be unknown. Natural causes include geographical features such as shallow bays, navigational error, extreme tides and/or weather, old age, illness/poor health, predation, and harmful algal blooms. Human causes have been attributed to vessel strikes, entanglement in fishing gear or debris, pollution exposure, and ingestion of marine debris.

When water temperatures decrease quickly in November-December, sea turtles may wash up on New York's beaches in a hypothermic state known as 'cold-stunned' and may appear dead. If you see a sea turtle on the beach or floating nearshore, it may be alive and cold-stunned. Immediate medical attention is required for cold-stunned sea turtles, call the New York Stranding Hotline at 631-369-9829 to report the animal. Never place the animal back in the water or remove it from the beach.

Out of Habitat: The location of a live animal or animals is unusual.

These events happen for any of the stranding reasons listed above but in most cases, the animal is either sick or lost. If an initial assessment of the animal indicates it is in good health, monitoring the animal is often the best course of action. If the animal reveals a change in health and/or the animal does not appear to be trying to leave the area, a herding operation may be carried out with small boats and/or nets to direct the animal towards the ocean.

Entanglement: An event occurring in the water or on the beach in which a marine mammal or sea turtle is wrapped marine debris limiting its ability to function normally and/or causing injury.

Entanglement events are assessed for the possibility of a disentanglement response. Disentanglement on the water for large whales and leatherback sea turtles can be very dangerous and requires significant training to ensure a successful and safe operation. In some cases, an in-field disentanglement for non-serious entanglements may be preferred or the animal is transported to a facility for rehabilitation and care before it is released.

Watch a short video to learn about the multi-agency efforts to disentangle a humpback whale off of Rockaway, NY in July 2020.

Responsible Marine Life Viewing

DEC urges responsible viewing of marine mammals and sea turtles at all times. If you observe an animal on land, never approach it closer than 50 yards (150 feet) to the animal. Pets should remain leashed and should not approach the animals. For more information visit NOAA's Marine Life Viewing Guidelines (leaves DEC website).

While viewing these unique animals responsibly, you can contribute to the state's data on marine protected resources occurrence and distribution. Report observation to DEC using the resources below:

Sturgeon: On Long Island or in New York City, call (631) 444-0444. In the Hudson River region, please call (845) 256-3073.

Sharks: Report using the Shark Spotter survey.

Fish kills: Report these observations to DEC's Marine Life Incident Report online survey.

Marine mammal and sea turtles: Report using Flipper Files survey.

If a marine mammal or sea turtle appears sick, injured, or dead, call the 24-hour New York Stranding Hotline at (631) 369-9829.

Marine Mammal Take Reduction Plans

DEC participates on all applicable take reduction teams for marine mammals. States are responsible for facilitating federal Take Reduction Plans (TRPs) (link leaves DEC website), which apply in all marine waters up to the shoreline. All state and federal commercial fishing operations must follow the measures described in TRPs.

A federal rule making (leaves DEC website) involving trap/pot fisheries, primarily the lobster fishery, from Maine to Rhode Island is currently underway. The Proposed Rule under the Atlantic Large Whale TRP was published in December 2020. The Final Environmental Impact Statement was released in July 2021 and the Record of Decision is expected in August 2021.NOAA continues to work with the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team (TRT) and constituents to put measures in place for other trap/pot and gillnet fisheries along the east coast.

New York adheres to three Take Reduction Teams (links leave DEC website):

Bottlenose Dolphin Take Reduction Team Plan

The Bottlenose Dolphin TRP in the Mid-Atlantic area extends to the NJ/NY state waters line but does not currently include waters in New York. The Plan's regulatory measures impact the Mid-Atlantic gillnet fishery and includes best practice recommendations for blue crab trap/pot gear such as using sinking lines.

Harbor Porpoise Take Reduction Team Plan

The Harbor Porpoise TRP focuses on commercial gillnet gear, which causes the most bycatch. New York exempted waters are: Moriches Bay Inlet, Fire Island Inlet, and Jones Inlet. The Mid-Atlantic's gear modification requirements apply to New York in during the following:

Waters off New Jersey Management Area
Small Mesh (5"-7") Large Mesh (7"-18")
No Gillnets No restrictions Apr 1 - Apr 20
Gear Modifications Jan 1 - Apr 30 Jan 1 - Mar 31;
Apr 21 - Apr 30
Mudhole North Management Area
Small Mesh (5"-7") Large Mesh (7"-18")
No Gillnets Feb 15 - Mar 15 Feb 15 - Mar 15;
Apr 1 - Apr 20
Gear Modifications Jan 1 - Feb 14;
Mar 16 - Apr 30
Jan 1 - Jan 31;
Mar 16 - Mar 31;
Apr 21 - Apr 30
Mudhole South Management Area
Small Mesh (5"-7") Large Mesh (7"-18")
No Gillnets Feb 15 - Mar 15 Feb 15 - Mar 15;
Apr 1 - Apr 20
Gear Modifications Jan 1 - Jan 31;
Mar 16 - Apr 30
Jan 1 - Jan 31;
Mar 16 - Mar 31;
Apr 21 - Apr 30
Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team Plan

The Atlantic Large Whale TRP (ALWTRP) focuses primarily on North Atlantic right whale, humpback whale, and fin whale entanglements in commercial gillnet and trap/pot gear along the east coast. ALWTRP applies to the following fisheries except in marine waters of Long Island Sound and New York Harbor:

  • Mid-Atlantic gillnet
  • Mid-Atlantic American lobster trap/pot
  • Atlantic blue crab trap/pot
  • Atlantic mixed species trap/pot including but not limited to: crab (red, Jonah, and rock), hagfish, fin-fish (black sea bass, scup, tautog, cod, haddock, pollock, redfish/ocean perch, and white hake), conch/whelk, and shrimp.
Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan Fishery Requirements
Gillnet Fishery Trap/Pot Fisheries
  • No buoy line floating at the surface.
  • No wet storage of gear.
  • Fishermen are encouraged, but not required, to maintain knot-free buoy lines.
  • All groundlines must be made of sinking line.

See ALWTRP Mid-Atlantic Gillnet Fishery Requirements (PDF) for more details.

  • No buoy line floating at the surface.
  • No wet storage of gear.
  • Fishermen are encouraged, but not required, to maintain knot-free buoy lines.
  • All groundlines must be made of sinking line.
  • Trawls with less than or equal to 5 traps may only possess 1 buoy line.

See ALWTRP Mid-Atlantic Trap/Pot Fisheries Requirements (PDF) for more details.

Weak Link Requirements
  • All buoys and floatation devices must be attached to the line with a weak link
  • Not required in locations where rope of appropriate breaking strength is used
  • See ALWTRP Supplement B - Weak Links & Anchoring Techniques (PDF) for all information, including details for panel configuration options, Gillnet Anchoring Requirements and Drift Gillnet Night Fishing & Storage Restrictions
Gear Marking Requirements
  • Trap/pot surface buoys to be marked to identify the vessel or fishery
  • Buoy line marking color coded by area
  • Additional information on gear marking techniques can be found in ALWTRP Supplement C - Gear Marking (PDF).
Fishery observer measuring a striped bass
Fishery observer measuring a striped bass

Fishery Observer Program

From December 2015 through March 2019 an increase in observer coverage was implemented on commercial fishing vessels landing catch in New York and using trawls, gillnets, or pot/traps. The DEC provided funds to NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Observer Program (NEFOP) to ensure fisheries landing in New York remain open by complying with the federal requirement for an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) of protected species (marine mammals, sea turtles, and Atlantic sturgeon). The observer coverage increase provided the best available data for the ITP application, including data on incidental captures of Atlantic sturgeon and bycatch by state permit only vessels. For more information about the Fishery Observer Program visit NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Observer Program (leaves DEC website) for more information.

How You Can Help Marine Protected Resources

1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rethink: This is something you may hear frequently, but these are simple steps to help protect marine species!

  • Reduce the amount of materials you use to minimize the amount of waste you create.
  • Reuse and repurpose items that you may no longer use.
  • Recycle everything you can! Making an effort to separate your items for recycling will help reduce the number of items ending up in landfill.
  • Rethink your daily activities and the materials you use and the items you discard. There are many simple changes we can make in our lifestyles to help the environment, which ultimately help marine animals.
  • For more information, visit the DEC Recycling and Composting webpage.

2. Do not litter: Trash makes its way just about everywhere, including into our waterbodies. If you're unable to find a trash or recycling receptacle right away, hold on to your garbage until you can properly dispose of it. Learn more about waste management on the DEC Waste Management webpage.

3. Don't release balloons or lanterns: The intentional release of balloons into the environment is potentially fatal for fish and wildlife. Balloons and plastic bags are commonly mistaken as prey by many marine species. Once ingested, the animal's digestive tract can be blocked, causing it to become sick or starve to death. Avoid using balloons and plastic bags to reduce the possibility of them contributing to pollution. Visit the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service webpage (leaves DEC website) for more information about balloons and wildlife.

4. Volunteer your time and make donations: There are many organizations that are fighting to protect ocean habitats and marine wildlife. Getting involved at a local level is a great way to help marine species. Consider donating to or volunteering with local organizations. Beach and park clean ups are a great opportunity to connect the community and help protect the environment. If you can't find a local event, just gather your friends and family members and create your own!

5. Stay Informed and share your knowledge: The best thing you can do is to stay informed and continue to learn about the issues and threats to the ocean and marine life. The more you learn, the more you'll want to help ensure the marine ecosystem remains healthy. As you continue to educate yourself, share your knowledge with those around you and continue to inform others of how crucial it is to protect the marine environment.