Environmental groups applaud Governor Cuomo for signing the New York State Seagrass Protection Act into law yesterday (S.4287B/A.7988A) co-sponsored by Assemblyman Robert Sweeney (D, Lindenhurst) and State Senator Owen Johnson (R-C, Babylon).
Seagrass meadows provide critical habitat for local fish, shellfish and other marine life and play an important role in maintaining the overall health of New York’s bays. According to NOAA’s 2006 report, Fisheries Economics of the US, species that rely on seagrass produced over $1.9 billion dollars in sales, $41 million in employment impacts, and $1 billion dollars of earned income nationwide. Seagrasses in New York’s coastal waters also provide critical habitat for recreationally and commercially important fish and invertebrate species. The bay scallop fishery in New York – which was decimated by the loss of seagrass beds – once averaged over 300,000 pounds annually, an amount that would have been worth nearly $4.5 million to local fishermen in 2010.
“We applaud Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature for recognizing the value of seagrass to our marine environment. Efforts to rebuild populations of fish and shellfish, such as Peconic Bay scallops, are unlikely to achieve long-term success without adequate protection and restoration of seagrass,” said Nancy Kelley, executive director for The Nature Conservancy on Long Island. “This act is a key part of a suite of strategies to restore, protect and properly manage our precious marine environments for future generations. Moreover, an investment in the protection and management of this essential resource is also an investment in the health of the economies of coastal communities here in New York.”
From 1930 to present day, regional seagrass populations have suffered massive losses due to a myriad of factors, including: disease, brown tides, impacts from multiple uses of the waterways, and primarily inputs from the watershed such as nutrients and herbicides. Globally, the loss of seagrass is linked to major declines in both finfish and shellfish populations and, consequently, the economic decline of local fisheries and recreational industries. Properly protecting seagrass, based on sound research and management principles, will create benefits, such as increasing the capacity of the fishing industry and providing a blueprint for improving water quality.
Specifically, this new law will protect seagrass by granting the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) the authority to regulate coastal and marine activities that threaten seagrass beds or seagrass restoration efforts, allowing the DEC to work with stakeholders to designate Seagrass Management Areas and to being to address the challenges posed by nutrient pollution.
“I’m very supportive of the Seagrass Protection Act as eelgrass and other seagrasses are the staff of life in these bays that support us and the larger bay ecosystem. Without them our fisheries and those who work them would disappear forever,” said Alfred Chiofolo, a lifelong baymen from Brookhaven, NY. “I have made, and continue to make, my living off the bounty of the waters of Moriches and Great South Bays. I harvest eels, whelks, crabs and baitfish from these waters – all of which are entirely dependent upon healthy eelgrass beds and a healthy bay in general.”
“Seagrass is a critical component of restoring oysters, hard shell clams, scallops, and other shellfish that are meaningful for our culture and economic future. Stakeholders and government have partnered to restore our estuaries and the protection of seagrass will advance these important efforts. CCE is delighted that the Governor, Senate, and Assembly all agree on restoring waterbodies for healthy communities and a healthy economy,” stated Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director, Citizens Campaign for the Environment and Sea Grass Task Force member.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.