The New York state Senate has passed legislation to protect marine habitat and the continued viability of commercial and recreational fishing. The bill was sent to the Assembly, and has been returned with changes to the Senate for final approval.
The bill - sponsored by Senator Owen Johnson (R-C, Babylon) - establishes the Seagrass Protection Act to address threats to seagrasses, an ecologically important species.
The bill grants the NYS Deparment of Environmental Conservation authority to:
- Designate seagrass management areas.
- Restrict the types of mechanically powered fishing gear in seagrass areas that could be harmful to the grass.
- Make this information available on the DEC website.
- Develop and adopt, after consultation with stakeholders, a seagrass management plan for designated seagrass management areas to protect seagrass beds and preserve traditional recreational activities.
The Great South Bay is home to a type of seagrass called eelgrass, an important component of a healthy estuary system.
"The passage of this legislation is great news for Long Island. Seagrasses are vital to the health of our bays, providing a habitat for many valuable species of fish and shellfish, as well as stabilizing the bay bottom sediments,” Senator Owen H. Johnson said in a statement on his website.
“The once vast seagrass meadows have suffered dramatic declines making it essential we take action now to protect the seagrasses in our coastal regions,” he continued.
Senator Johnson concluded, “I'm proud to sponsor this legislation calling for the protection, maintenance and regrowth of seagrass, which will ultimately improve the quality of the environment and the fisheries on Long Island.”
According to a report prepared by the DEC, "New York seagrass beds function as vital habitat and nursery grounds for numerous commercially, recreationally and ecologically important fish and shellfish species. Seagrasses also serve a major role in the nutrient and carbon cycles, provide an important food source for fish and waterfowl, and stabilize bottom sediments.
"Aside from providing many essential and invaluable ecosystem services, their presence is often used as an indicator of estuarine health and quality. While historic seagrass acreage in New York has not been documented, historic photography and records indicate that there may have been 200,000 acres in 1930; today, only 21,803 acres remain."