Yesterday, New York State took an important step toward the protection of ocean resources that are so crucial to the state's environment and economy. The New York Ocean and Great Lakes Ecosystem Conservation Council, which is made up of nine state agencies, released a new draft report calling for immediate action to restore New York's ocean and Great Lakes ecosystems. The report highlights the need for speedy government action to reverse troubling economic and environmental declines, including record beach closings and struggling commercial fisheries.
The report comes amid proposed budget cuts to the state's Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), including slashes to important funding for New York oceans and coasts.
Healthy New York oceans contribute to a healthy New York economy. Fishing, seafood, wildlife watching, and tourism industries all depend on the health of the sea. When healthy ocean and coastal ecosystems suffer, so does the economy - take a look at some of the numbers to see what's at stake:
- 356,200 jobs (or $11.5 billion in wages for employees) relied on New York's oceans in 2004 - from fishing, seafood markets, boat and ship building and tourism.
- The oceans made up $24.6 billion of the state's GDP in the same year.
- Beach closings on Long Island cost the state $60 million in 2007 and were largely caused by stormwater runoff that made water too dirty for swimming.
New York has two of the top 10 most valuable Mid-Atlantic commercial fishing ports: Montauk and Hampton Bay-Shinnicock, worth $16.8 million and $8 million respectively. But the state's commercial fisheries are now just about 1/5 the value they were 50 years ago. There have been severe declines in fish and shellfish populations, and seven of the most valuable species caught in New York are struggling due to overfishing (American lobster, black sea bass, scup or porgies, summer flounder or fluke, tautog or blackfish, tilefish and weakfish).
We need sufficient funds in the EPF for the state's ocean and coastal resources. Here are just a few of the important projects funded through the EPF in the past few years that help protect our ocean resources, employ New Yorkers and bring in revenue for the state:
- Restoring clam populations and eel grass, as well as developing a restoration plan in Great South Bay. Three million clams that were seeded in Great South Bay have spawned nearly 300 million baby clams - bringing hopes that the hard clam fishery and the water quality benefits that come with these shellfish can return. Great South Bay used to be the leading source of clams for the entire East Coast.
- Monitoring the health of the state's fisheries.
- Working to reduce bycatch in New York fisheries, a practice that significantly adds to plummeting fish populations, including designing an at-sea observer program to monitor bycatch (a.k.a. the unwanted marine life that fishing boats throw back either dead or dying).
- Working to prevent collisions between ships and endangered/threatened whales near New York Harbor with a system of listening buoys to help New York determine migration routes for humpbacks, fin and right whales so that action can be taken to protect these animals.
From the beaches we swim off to the seafood we eat and the goods we import, New York's oceans have more than environmental value to the state, they have economic value as well - as the State's draft report reflects.
We need to make sure the funding level for the EPF recognizes this.
MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD: Tell the state's leaders that you support prompt action to protect New York's ocean and coastal resources - 12,000 letters have already been sent: http://www.nrdconline.org/campaign/nrdcaction_010709.