Lawmakers Clear Measure Protecting Saltwater Fisheries and Habitat

ALBANY (May 10, 2006) -- Landmark legislation to protect and revitalize New York's ocean and coastal waters won swift approval today from the full State Assembly. The New York Ocean and Bays Protection Act (A-10584), which had quickly passed through both the Environmental Conservation and Ways & Means Committees, now moves to the State Senate.

"Lawmakers in Albany realize that vital ocean and coastal habitats are in trouble, and need protection," said Sarah Chasis, Ocean Initiative Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "This legislation brings a new era of ocean protection with coordinated and directed marine management, and will help reestablish healthy and vibrant ocean life."

The legislation aims to improve the health of New York's coastal areas by creating a New York Ocean and Bays Protection Council, which will coordinate state marine resources decisions, encourage ecosystem-based management approaches, and ensure that accurate information about the state of coastal fisheries is widely available. It will also establish a comprehensive ocean management plan by the fall of 2008.

"An interagency Council and comprehensive New York ocean and bays plan will bring about the kind of coordinated approaches we need to save our marine life," said Robert S. DeLuca, President of Group for the South Fork. "The benefits created by this legislation will be seen at all levels of government -- from increased clarity in federal government requests to improved information for coastal communities."

"We applaud Assemblyman DiNapoli's leadership in sponsoring this important environmental legislation, and thank the Assembly for passing this bill," said Marcia Bystryn, Executive Director of the New York League of Conservation Voters.

More than 40 percent of New York's coastal estuary and bay waters are impaired or threatened, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and nearly 30 percent of the state's most important commercial and recreational saltwater fisheries are depleted or being harvested at unsustainable rates. The total weight of seafood landed in New York State today is just a quarter of what it was 50 years ago.

"Enacting the New York Ocean and Bays Protection Act will make the state a trailblazer in ocean protection," said Kyle Rabin, Executive Director of Friends of the Bay. "Oceans worldwide are languishing from neglect and quickly approaching a point of no return. A-10584 could help turn the tide."

Provisions of the bill implement key recommendations made recently by a pair of national ocean commissions -- the congressionally-established U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the independent Pew Ocean Commission of scientists and other leaders from fisheries, business, and government. Both commissions urged immediate action by government to save our oceans, and encouraged a move toward ecosystem-based management.

"We need to move away from a piecemeal approach to managing coastal and marine resources toward one that ensures sustainable fishing, improves water quality, protects critical habitats, and preserves food webs," said Environmental Defense marine scientist Jake Kritzer. "Integrated ecosystem-based management will require integrated action by state agencies, and this bill will provide that needed coordination."

"Our ocean, bays, estuaries and coastal resources represent critical habitats for hundreds of different bird species," said David J. Miller, Executive Director of Audubon New York. "Encouraging ecosystem-based management approaches will ensure that important bird species as well as fish are protected."

Last year, the New York Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee held a hearing on New York's marine resources and Governor Pataki hosted the New York State Ocean and Great Lakes Symposium to explore how the state could address its gaps in marine protection, and become a strong leader in ocean policy. Governor Pataki was also a participant in the national Pew Ocean Commission.

"This bill is consistent with two of the major recommendations made in my testimony at the Legislative hearing, namely that New York should create its own ocean commission to evaluate the status of our marine environment and to create strategic plans for restoration and protection of its resources, and place great emphasis on ecosystem-based management of its bays and estuaries," said David O. Conover, Dean and Director of the Marine Sciences Research Center at Stony Brook University.

"New York has demonstrated strong leadership by passing the New York Ocean and Bays Protection Act," said Andrea Geiger, The Ocean Conservancy's Legislative Program Manager. "This bill will bring better coordination between agencies and stewardship of our coastal environment. It is a model of the type of responsible action we must have at the national level for our oceans."

"New York's coast features a unique combination of dense population, famously beautiful beaches and bays, and important fisheries," said Carl Safina, an award-winning nature writer and President of Blue Ocean Institute. "The New York Ocean and Bays Protection Act is a crucial step toward safeguarding and maintaining our stunning natural coastal areas, for the millions of people who love and depend on our coasts."