Bill Ushers in a New Era for State Ocean, Great Lakes Protection

ALBANY (June 23, 2006) -- New York today becomes the second state in the country to establish a state council to coordinate marine resource efforts by taking aggressive steps to protect imperiled ocean and coastal resources through the implementation of an ecosystem-based management approach. With the unanimous passage of the New York Ocean and Great Lakes Ecosystem Conservation Act (S-8380, A-10584B), New York steps forward as a leader in ocean protection.

More than 40 percent of New York's coastal estuary and bay waters are impaired or threatened, and more than 35 percent of the state's most important commercial and recreational saltwater fish and shellfish are depleted or being harvested at unsustainable rates.

"New York's coastal communities depend on a healthy ocean for jobs, food and recreation," said Sarah Chasis, head of NRDC's Ocean Initiative. "Overfishing, pollution, and destruction of marine habitat are degrading our coastal waters, and New York State lawmakers have shown today that they recognize the crisis and are eager to solve it."

Sen. Owen Johnson, Senate Finance Committee Chair, and Assemblyman Tom DiNapoli, Chair of the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee, sponsored the landmark legislation and were instrumental in securing its passage. Governor Pataki, a former member of the Pew Oceans Commission, was actively involved in deliberations, working with the Assembly and Senate to incorporate elements raised at his recent New York State Ocean and Great Lakes Symposium.

The act establishes a strong state policy of conserving and restoring our ocean and coastal resources and embraces the concept of ecosystem-based management, which is an important alternative to managing only on a species-by-species, problem-by-problem basis. Instead the approach considers the interplay between different species and their habitats, and the combined impact of multiple factors on the system.

The act also creates an interagency New York Ocean and Great Lakes Ecosystem Conservation Council comprising the heads of various state agencies to improve coordination, reduce duplication of effort, and ensure accountability among those responsible for marine resources. The Council will complete a report by November 2008 defining government actions needed to integrate ecosystem-based management with existing programs. The Council will also create an atlas of ocean and coastal resources to help ensure accurate information is available at all levels of government.

Creating an interagency council was a key recommendation of both the New York Assembly's Environmental Conservation Committee's hearing on how to improve the state's marine resources and the New York State Ocean and Great Lakes Symposium. The idea is also supported by two national commissions that developed blueprints for ocean conservation - the congressionally-established U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the independent Pew Oceans Commission of scientists and other leaders from fisheries, business, and government.

In 2004, the California Ocean Protection Act created the California Ocean Protection Council to protect their ocean and coastal resources. New York becomes the second state to set up such an ocean council to implement an ecosystem-based management approach.

"New York State's leadership is trailblazing a new path for ocean protection," Chasis said. "We're entering an innovative era in ocean management that we encourage other states to follow."