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Community Science and Marine Fisheries

Help Protect Marine Species by Becoming a Community Scientist

DEC offers a variety of opportunities for members of the community to participate in marine science research and conservation efforts. Participating in our community science programs offers hands on experiences in data collection and research methods, while also providing NYSDEC biologists with essential data they use to make informed decisions to better conserve important local marine species.

Visit Wildlife Monitoring Network Long Island (leaves DEC website) for more community science opportunities on Long Island.

Shortfin Mako Shark
Shortfin Mako, Photo Credit: Justin Pellegrino

Here are some of the volunteer opportunities DEC currently offer:

Shark Spotter (Year-round)

We invite you to submit your observations of sharks in the wild. The observations you submit will help biologists record the presence of Coastal Sharks in New York State waters and will also help to further the understanding of local shark ecology and behavior.

If you are fishing, boating, or enjoying the beach and observe a shark, please report your sighting using the NYSDEC Shark Spotter digital survey (leaves DEC website).

Flipper Files: Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Sighting Survey

humpback whales feeding
Humpback whales feeding, Photo Credit: Nicole Starkweather

Whales and dolphins are a common sight off the coast of New York, especially during the summer. Sea turtles and seals are also seen often.

While you're out enjoying the water, walking the beach, or fishing offshore, share your observations of marine mammals and sea turtles using our new Flipper Files survey (leaves DEC website). The details provided in your submitted sightings will help biologists understand where and how often these species are close to human activities. Without your help, this valuable information might otherwise be unknown. You will be adding to the collective knowledge about these iconic protected species in New York and expanding our understanding of local marine mammal and sea turtle habitat use and behavior.

Please visit Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles to learn more about the species that can be found locally, and our New York Bight Whale Monitoring Program page for the most recent sightings of whales in the area.

Horseshoe Crab Monitoring Program (May-early July)

DEC and Cornell staff tagging and measuring horseshoe crabs
DEC and Cornell staff tagging and measuring horseshoe crabs.

In 2004, the horseshoe crab spawning survey was initiated to monitor horseshoe crabs throughout NY's marine district. Every year, the NYSDEC Marine Invertebrates Unit and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County's Marine Program have worked with an extensive network of volunteers to monitor the spawning activities of horseshoe crabs at the night time high tides around the new and full moon. Trained site coordinators teach volunteers to count, measure, tag, and tell the difference between male and female crabs at each of the 24 survey sites. By participating with the 100s of other volunteers on this survey, you will be helping to collect scientific data that will be used to assess horseshoe crabs and inform conservation management decisions in New York State.

To learn more about the horseshoe crab spawning survey and become a volunteer, please visit Cornell's Horseshoe Crab Webpage (leaves DEC website).

Striped Bass Cooperative Anglers Program (Spring-Fall)

52 pound striped bass caught and released by Justin Campbell and Cooperative Angler Capt. Craig McCaslin. Fire Island, N.Y
52 pound striped bass caught and released by Justin Campbell
and cooperative angler Capt. Craig McCaslin out of Fire Island.

If you'd like to help conserve and manage striped bass, becoming a New York State volunteer angler may be for you! Striped bass play an important role in New York's aquatic ecosystems and support commercial and recreational fisheries in our state. Striped bass are managed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, an interstate cooperative fishery management agency, which requires NYSDEC to provide information on the recreational striped bass fishery. Since 1985, NYS DEC has satisfied this requirement with the help of NYS volunteer recreational anglers.

NYS DEC provides volunteer anglers with logbooks to record fishing trip information, envelopes to take scale samples from striped bass, and instructions on how to properly collect required data. At the end of the season, the data sent to DEC staff will be used to determine the fishing success of recreational striped bass fishers, in addition to helping assess the striped bass population in the region. At the end of the year, the data that is sent in is summarized and returned to you in the form of a newsletter. Whether you live in Long Island, New York City, or the Hudson River region, you can participate in the Striped Bass Cooperative Anglers Program.

For more information about the Striped Bass Cooperative Angler Program in the Hudson River region (north of the George Washington Bridge), please contact Jessica Best at or (845) 256-3009. If you fish for striped bass in New York waters south of the George Washington Bridge and would like to become a volunteer angler, please contact the Diadromous Fish Unit at sbcaprogram@dec.ny.govor (631) 380-3314. Visit the Striped Bass Cooperative Anglers Program webpage for more information.

Artificial Reef Fishing and Diving (Year-round)

tautog aggregation on Atlantic Beach Reef rockpile
Tautog aggregation, Atlantic Beach Reef rockpile.
Photo by Christopher LaPorta

New York State artificial reefs were developed to enhance fisheries habitat. Over time, they became homes to a variety of marine species including fish, crustaceans, mollusks, sponges and even temperate corals. There are currently 12 artificial reef sites in New York State that are managed by the DEC Artificial Reef Program. Anglers and divers utilize these sites for many different reasons that include fishing or to simply observe the marine biodiversity. If you fish or dive on one of the many artificial reefs in New York's marine district, we encourage you to share your experience and contribute to the DEC's volunteer reef diver program or the volunteer reef angler program.

If you're fishing or diving on one of New York's artificial reefs, download the Artificial Reef Volunteer Fishing & Diving Survey (leaves DEC website) to submit a digital survey of your observations. All the information you provide is important supplemental reef monitoring data and helps NYSDEC effectively manage and enhance our artificial reefs.

Visit Be Volunteer Reef Angler or Diver for more information about how to participate.

Atlantic Sturgeon Salvage Program (Year-round, common during Spring & Fall)

washed up Atlantic sturgeon on the south shore of Long Island
Washed up Atlantic sturgeon on the south shore of Long Island

The Atlantic sturgeon is an archaic species that was declared endangered in 2012 by NOAA, Fisheries Service. Sturgeon are anadromous species, meaning they're born in freshwater but spend majority of their lives at sea, only returning to freshwater regions to spawn. For this reason, NYSDEC Marine Protected Resources and Hudson River Fisheries Units work together to effectively protect this endangered species in both its marine and freshwater habitats.

Sturgeon are particularly susceptible to being caught as bycatch in gillnet and otter trawl fisheries, or potentially getting struck by moving vessels during their migrations. Deceased sturgeon may wash up on beaches in Long Island or in the Hudson River region, and it is important to collect information about these mortality events. We rely on assistance from the general public and encourage individuals to report any sturgeon they may come across.

Please review Reporting a Dead Sturgeon guidelines on our Atlantic Sturgeon Webpage to help DEC and NOAA, Fisheries conserve Atlantic sturgeon.

Blue Crab Tagging Program (Year-round)

Blue crab being tagged

The blue crab tagging program was initiated to investigate the migration patterns, habitat preferences, and life history traits of blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) in New York's waters. Blue crabs, which are captured in various NYSDEC field surveys, are tagged with a yellow wire carapace tag which has a specific number attributed to each crab. This tag is attached externally to the crabs' two lateral spines. If you happen to capture a tagged crab, you can contribute information to the tagging program by answering a few quick questions about your catch.

For more information or to submit data to the tagging program, please visit the Blue Crab Tagging Program webpage.

Blue Crab Recreational Survey (June-October)

girl holding a crab

Do you fish recreationally for blue crab in the New York's marine district? If so, we would like you to participate in our Volunteer Blue Crab Fishery Survey! Blue crabs are commonly targeted by recreational fisherman in New York, and monitoring catch and effort from the recreational community is vital to properly manage their populations.

In 2016, the blue crab intercept survey and a digital survey were developed to help DEC, Division of Marine Resources (DMR) gather data from recreational crabbers. Information about your fishing trip (where, when and how long you fished), as well as data regarding what gear was used, how many blue crabs were caught, sizes and sex ratios, help the DMR biologist accurately characterize the recreational harvest of blue crabs in the NY marine district. Please consider logging all of your blue crab trips into the digital survey. Remember to also log the trips where you don't catch any crabs. Trips with no catch supply biologists with important information.

For more information about the blue crab intercept survey and the Digital Survey of Recreational Blue Crabbing, please visit the Recreational Blue Crab Survey webpage.

Lobster Recreational Survey (Year-round)

Lobster being measured on a NYSDEC measuring board

Do you fish recreationally for lobster in New York's marine district? If so, we would like you to participate in our Volunteer Recreational Lobster Fishing Survey! In New York, most recreational lobster fishers catch lobsters in pots or by diving on reefs.

Recreational lobster fishers have been asked to complete a voluntary paper survey detailing their catch from the previous year since 1999. In 2017, a digital survey was created to help DEC, Division of Marine Resources (DMR) get better data on catch and effort from the recreational community.

The new survey is quick, easy, and provides DMR staff with better data to describe the recreational harvest of lobsters in New York. Information about your fishing trip such as, where and when you fished, what gear you used, and how many lobsters were caught help to assess the status of lobsters in the marine district. Please consider logging all of your lobster fishing trips into the digital survey. Remember to also log the trips where you don't catch any lobster. Trips with no catch supply biologists with important information.

To start logging a trip now, please visit the Digital Survey for Recreational Lobster Fishing (leaves DEC website).

Long Island Volunteer Alewife Survey: (March - May)

Alewife jumping out of water

Volunteers are needed to watch for spawning alewife. Alewife are a species of river herring native to Long Island. Like salmon, they split their life cycle between salt and freshwater. Most Long Island tributaries once supported spring runs of returning alewife.

Unfortunately, alewife runs have been decimated by dams, habitat loss and declining water quality. While remnant populations exist in a few rivers, little is known about their overall status across Long Island. Documenting existing spawning runs is an important step in the restoration effort.

To learn more about this volunteer effort, please visit the Seatuck Environmental Association Alewife Webpage (leaves DEC website).

Marine Life Incident & Fish Kill Report

Mortality events, or fish kills, are not unusual for some marine fish species, and particularly for fish that swim in large schools. There are various naturally occurring causes that are typically responsible for these events which may include low dissolved oxygen, changing environmental conditions, and pathogens. Report observations of a fish kill to DEC's Marine Life Incident Report online survey.

For questions or more information about fish kills, contact or call 631-444-0714 for marine waters or 845-256-3199 on the Hudson River.

Get Involved in Local Community Science (links leave DEC website):

More about Community Science and Marine Fisheries: