A pair of new laws, signed last week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, have been applauded by advocacy groups representing people who fish for striped bass and trout. But Cuomo and the multi-state agency that manages the Susquehanna River are also taking heat for pro-fracking initiatives.
Albany got the thumbs-up from striper fans for a new law that maintains the nearly 40-year ban on commercial fishing for striped bass in the Hudson River. That Hudson stock provides recreational fishing, including some world-class fly-fishing, from Troy to Montauk and beyond.
The Hudson’s contribution to the East Coast striper population is small compared to that of Chesapeake Bay. But the Chesapeake’s stripers are now widely agreed to be in serious trouble — so serious that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is expected to order a 40 percent reduction in harvest, both commercial and recreational, along the entire coast this fall.
That’s by far the most drastic step since the striper population crashed in the 1980s, and it shows how serious the problem is. Recreational landings are down by an astonishing 66 percent since 2006. Possible reasons include mycobacteriosis, pollution, over-harvest of forage fish and ever-growing pressure on the fishery by sport and commercial fishers.
Whatever the reason, opening a new commercial fishery right now would be lunacy.
“When Gov. Cuomo signed this bill into law, he assured that no commercial fishery would be created in the second-largest striped bass nursery on the East Coast, at a time when the population in the largest producer area is not doing well. It was simply the right thing to do,” said Bill Raab, president of the Coastal Conservation Association’s New York chapter.
Cuomo also won praise from Trout Unlimited for signing a law establishing a permit system for industrial-size withdrawals of water from streams and lakes. Oddly enough, no such permit system existed before. Now, with the state gearing up for thousands of natural gas wells, each one using up to three million gallons for hydrofacturing, drillers must apply for permits that are supposed to set conditions that protect streams.
At the same time, TU is upset with Cuomo’s Department of Environmental Conservation for allowing only 60 days’ worth of public comment on the latest, and probably final, draft of proposed fracking rules for New York. Much of the proposal was released in July, with more details, including a socio-economic impact assessment, due out in the coming weeks.
TU wants a 180-day comment period and public hearings around the state next winter.
“Marcellus Shale drilling, if not regulated properly, can threaten New York’s streams, forests, fish and wildlife,” said Katy Dunlap, TU’s eastern water project director. “[Sixty days] is not enough time for the public to fully weigh in on the state’s plans for addressing the environmental impact of drilling in New York state.”
Finally, TU is demanding the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, which regulates “some of the best remaining trout habitat in the east,” reject a plan to ease fracking rules. The commission wants to extend water withdrawal permits from five years to 15, give drillers more flexibility in moving waste water around, and let its executive director approve some applications without a public vote of the commissioners.
“Hastening the approval process now — without conducting a cumulative impact assessment of all water withdrawals and well pads in all of the basin’s Marcellus Shale states — is a step in the wrong direction,” TU said.
Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him at [email protected].