Hudson Canyon National Marine Sanctuary Proposal

by Ken Warchal
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association May 2017 Newsletter)

The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council met at the Icona Golden Inn, Avalon, N.J. for three days this past week. A proposal to designate a large area of the ocean surrounding Hudson Canyon was heard on Wednesday. The proposal was made by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The WCS is a huge, worldwide conservation group with assets of over $1 billion based at the Bronx Zoo. Its mission statement reads, “WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature”.

Their proposal states that they want to protect the unique diversity of marine life in the Hudson from “incompatible human activity, specifically oil and gas exploration”. They profess that fishing be allowed in the sanctuary and that it be regulated by the existing regulatory authorities. They state that broad interest has been received by all stakeholders and it will open the wonders of the Hudson Canyon to the general populous.

While this all sounds admirable, there are some serious inconsistencies that are troublesome. While the language in the proposal focuses on the Hudson Canyon, the sanctuary itself encompasses an area far beyond it. The Hudson Canyon is only about 60 square miles in size; the proposed sanctuary is 2900 square miles!!! The proposal claims widespread support from stakeholders. Apparently, the WCS doesn’t consider the residents of New Jersey or states other than New York stakeholders. To my knowledge, members of the NJ fishing community were not consulted. The proposal “recommends” that fishing be allowed; however, there is no guarantee that once the sanctuary is in place that fishing couldn’t be restricted at a later date.

Commercial fishermen have good reason to be concerned. They agreed to accept designation of the Frank R. Lautenberg Deep-Sea Protection Area which precludes bottom tending fishing gear along the 100 fathom line and to the east with the understanding that sanctuaries such as this one would not be pursued. Further, the proposal also states that trawling can be particularly damaging to the marine habitat and its occupants. It’s clear that conservation groups such as the WCS don’t favor commercial fishing and may move for restrictions once the sanctuary is approved. Recreational anglers are concerned that if commercial fishing is restricted, restrictions on recreational fishing may be next.

The Council voted 15 to 2 to not accept the proposal. Several members of the council favored further research on the proposal but that motion was denied. The Council’s action is good news and significant; however, the proposal is not defeated. It was accepted by NOAA and is included in the NOAA Marine Sanctuary inventory. JCAA will continue to monitor the progress of the proposal and report on any movement.

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