New York Passes Legislation to Protect Waterways

In a rarely before seen act, the State Senate and State Assembly passed not one but two NYLCV priority bills in this the first week in February! One bill will prevent exploration and drilling for oil and natural gas in New York-owned coastal waters. The other bill will prohibit purse seine fishing for menhaden, a species of fish fundamental to the marine ecosystem.

The water off of New York’s coast has been federally protected for the past several decades, so state laws for its protection are outdated. A. 2572/S. 2316 permanently bans offshore drilling and pipeline infrastructure in New York State waters. It also prohibits the Department of Environmental Conservation and Office of General Services from approving leases that would extend oil and natural gas production. This bill allows New York to uphold its commitment to responsible coastal management practices and protect threatened species, fishing industries, and the broader marine economy.

Drilling for offshore oil and natural resources increases air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and the risk of oil spills. Even oil exploration prior to drilling is detrimental to the environment and marine species. The outdated practice includes mapping out deposits along the ocean floor using a seismic air gun, which is harmful and even deadly to marine animals. Whales and dolphins, who can experience hearing loss and have trouble communicating due to the seismic blasts, are particularly at risk. The blasts disrupt natural behaviors like feeding and breeding and scares species away from local fishing areas as well.

The Trump Administration intends to open nearly all federal waters in the Atlantic to drilling, among other rollbacks on protections, putting previously-protected underwater lands at risk. New York State is one of many states in opposition to the president’s plan. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are concerned about the wellbeing and livelihoods of their constituents who rely on a healthy ocean ecosystem for thriving fishing and tourism industries.

The New York State Legislature also passed A. 2571/S. 2317 prohibiting purse seine fishing of Atlantic menhaden, a species of small fish also known as the bunker. Menhaden are an important food source for many larger marine animals and fished mainly for their omega-3 fats. Once overfished nearly to the point of extinction, successful conservation efforts helped the population rebound and the food chain rebuild. As a result, menhaden predators such as whales and dolphins are returning to the area, the marine ecosystem is healthier, and the fishing industry stronger.

Purse seines are large nets that can capture an entire school of fish at once. The use of purse seines could very quickly counteract the conservation efforts that saved the menhaden. The bill does allow the Department of Environmental Conservation to issue temporary permits in the case of fish kill, which is when entire localized populations die off due to agricultural runoff, the presence of biotoxins, or hypoxia.

NYLCV has been working to pass these bills for the past several years. Last year, hundreds of our members sent letters to their representatives in support of legislation to prohibit offshore drilling in New York State and to protect menhaden. We also hold a lobby day for these bills, included them on last year’s State Environmental Scorecard, and incorporated them in this year’s Policy Agenda.

We will continue to advocate for legislation that fights for vibrant, healthy coastal waters and species protections. We are proud that the state legislature has passed these vital bills so early in the legislative session thanks to the support of our members. Let’s work to keep the momentum going! You can help our efforts by making a contribution today.

By Elizabeth Ruben