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Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation (A2571 Englebright/S2317 Kaminsky) to protect menhaden, a fish whose population recovery has been instrumental in restoring striped bass, whales, dolphins, bluefish, coastal sharks, predatory fish, seals, and seabirds, among other species to New York's waters. The measure will strengthen conservation efforts to protect this vital bait fish by prohibiting the commercial use of an industrial net, known as purse seines, that can encircle an entire school of fish.

"New York has made significant investments to improve our habitat, clean up sources of harmful pollution, and restore a healthy diversity of life to our waters," Cuomo said. "This critical new law will help us further protect a vital fishery that supports species important to our sportfishing economy, as well as the majestic whales and other marine life that are once again returning to our state's coastal waters."

The measure signed last week prohibits the taking of menhaden with the use of purse seines, fishing nets as large as six city blocks, held down by weights at the bottom and buoyed by floats at the top edge that draw closed around the fish. An important commercial baitfish, menhaden are also harvested for production of fish oil, fertilizer, and fishmeal. Prohibiting the use of purse seines in New York's waters supports our fishermen, who use more sustainable taking methods, and increases their ability to access menhaden, also known as bunker.

Bunker were historically abundant in New York's waters until overfishing reduced their populations significantly. Since 2012, when the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission acted to restore the menhaden population the fish have slowly rebounded. In addition, DEC increased harvest reporting requirements in 2011 to better track New York bait landings. New York's focused management has resulted in a healthier, older, and larger menhaden population.

Menhaden are sensitive to oxygen levels in the water and regularly die off by the thousands when large schools enter confined waters in hot weather. Scores of the dead fish often wash ashore, polluting beaches and producing unpleasant odors, and removing them come at a significant cost to affected municipalities. To help prevent such situations, the new law includes an important provision that allows DEC to issue a temporary order that authorizes the use of purse seines to reduce the population when there is an imminent risk of a fish kill.

Menhaden are a key part of the food chain in New York's coastal waters and the Hudson River Estuary. Increased menhaden abundance in New York's nearshore oceans and the diverse wildlife that visit to feed on them provide enhanced opportunities for wildlife watchers and our state's commercial and recreational fishermen.

Along the Atlantic coast, commercial fisheries bring in over $46 billion and support 340,000 jobs, while 14 million recreational anglers expend $16 billion annually and support 167,086 jobs. Additionally, the ecotourism industry is robust throughout the Atlantic coast with almost 29 million wildlife watchers contributing $17 billion in expenditures annually.

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