Fly-fishing: New York state’s natural resources at risk on two fronts

In rejecting a plan to increase the commercial harvest of striped bass, most state governments along

In rejecting a plan to increase the commercial harvest of striped bass, most state governments along the East Coast did the right thing last week. It’s too bad New York wasn’t one of them.

And it remains to be seen whether New York will protect its rural landscape from the energy industry.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission on Tuesday considered whether to increase the number of stripers that could be caught and sold by as much as 50 percent. A majority of the commissioners, who represent coastal states, voted “no” because of “a 66 percent decline in estimated recreational catch from 2006 to 2009, a 25 percent decline in estimated striped bass abundance from 2004 to 2008, and several years of below-average production of fish from the Chesapeake Bay,” according to the commission’s staff.

These figures confirm what recreational anglers have been saying for several years: The fishing for stripers has fallen off significantly. The Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Tournament, for example, recorded the fewest stripers taken — 384 — since stripers were returned to the tournament in 1997, after a commercial fishing moratorium saved the species from being wiped out.

Probably the worst thing a government could do when a fish pop­ulation is in distress, is allow more of said fish to be harvested, yet that’s exactly what New York, Rhode Island and Delaware voted to do. Nine other coastal states, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service sensibly opted to keep the commercial quota right where it is.

On the other hot-button envir­onmental issue of the day, Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo left observers wondering whether he will or won’t give the green light to hydrofracture drilling.

Because “fracking” is generally done in the kind of hilly countryside that gives rise to trout streams, fishing advocates fear the process could result in serious damage. Unauthorized withdrawals of water for fracking fluid, accidental or deliberate dumping of waste fluid and sedimentation from the construction of well pads, roads and pipelines could really do a number on trout habitat (not to mention drinking water supplies, property values and public health.)

All Cuomo said during his campaign against Carl Paladino, who wholeheartedly supported the gas rush, was that fracking should only be allowed if it can be done safely. Last week, in a radio interview, he passed up a chance to be more specific.

“If it were safe, if the watersheds were protected and it would create jobs, great. But you need the facts,” he said. “And we don’t have the facts. We have a lot of emotion, but we don’t have the facts. And I would not do anything until the facts are determined by bona fide studies.”

Cuomo could have said his Dep­artment of Environmental Conservation would issue no drilling permits until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency completes its study of hydrofracturing two years from now, but he didn’t.

For all we know, Cuomo’s idea of a “bona fide” study could be the one being finalized now by the DEC, which would allow drilling to begin in 2011 — and which has been criticized by the EPA and watchdog groups.

These are tough times, and governments understandably want to help get the economy back on its feet. But natural resources are by definition irreplaceable, and only the government can protect them on behalf of the public, in good times or bad.

Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him at [email protected]

Categories: Sports

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