CCA New York Coastal Conservation Association of New York
Dedicated to the conservation of New York's marine resources
News

PO Box 1118 • West Babylon, NY 11704
917-256-1805

February 9, 2009

Docket Management Facility (USCG-2007-28535)

U.S. Department of Transportation

West Building, Ground Floor, Room W12-140

1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE

Washington, DC  20590

 

To Whom It May Concern:

           

Coastal Conservation Association New York (“CCA NY”) is taking this opportunity to present its objections to the creation of an “artificial island” for the purposes of developing a Liquid Natural Gas (“LNG”) regassification and offloading facility (the “Facility”) at 40o 23’ 19” N, 73o 36’ 35” W, an area known ad the “Cholera Bank”.

            CCA NY is the local chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association, a national fisheries conservation organization with approximately 100,000 members and 17 state chapters located between Maine and Texas, as well as in the Pacific Northwest.  With a membership comprised almost entirely of anglers, CCA NY is intimately familiar with the submarine geography of New York Bight, including the Cholera Bank, and with the fish and fisheries that exist in the area.

            CCA NY’s objections to the Facility arise solely out of such Facility’s proposed location.  It takes no position as to whether it is appropriate to create an LNG offloading facility elsewhere in the New York Bight, elsewhere off the coast of the State of New York or, for that matter, elsewhere off the coast of the United States.  Unless an offloading facility presents a direct and identifiable threat to marine fish and related fisheries, issues related to the placement of such facility lie beyond the expertise of CCA NY, and CCA NY would not consider itself competent to comment on the matter.

            Unfortunately, the Facility’s proposed location on the Cholera Bank presents such a threat.  Hard-bottom habitat is rare off the south shore of Long Island.  Virtually all of the bottom in the region is comprised of sand, silt or mud.  Thus, the few hard-bottom areas have a disproportionately high importance for structure-dependent species and the fisheries that such species support.  The destruction of the Cholera Bank ecosystem would not only have a negative impact on fish species (e.g., black sea bass, which form spawning aggregations in the immediate vicinity of hard-bottom habitat), but on both commercial and recreational fishers, who would lose access to such productive bottom.

            In their license application, the proponents of the Facility are being disingenuous with respect to fisheries issues.  They state that a “majority of recreational fishing is conducted within about three miles off the coast.,” [1] and that interviews with the operators of for-hire fishing vessels indicate that they only visit the Cholera Bank “infrequently.” [2]   While those statements may, strictly speaking, be true, they disguise a greater reality

            The National Marine Fisheries Service estimates that anglers leaving from New York ports made 6,218,085 trips in 2007, the last year for which final figures are available, [3] and CCA NY agrees that fewer than three million trips were made to waters more than 3 miles offshore.  However, what the Facility’s proponents do not address or try to quantify is the number of trips made to the relatively small area known as the Cholera Bank.  In fact, the area is regularly and heavily fished by vessels leaving from ports located in a broad area, ranging from northern New Jersey and Staten Island to the west to Fire Island Inlet to the east (including vessels operated by members of CCA NY’s Board of Directors, who fish Cholera Bank while leaving from inlets as far east as Fire Island.)  While each of such vessels may fish Cholera Bank “infrequently,” taking the recreational fishery in the aggregate, the area hosts very significant recreational activity, and the loss of the Cholera Bank as a fishing ground would represent a serious loss to the angling community.

            The Facility’s proponents also underestimate the important recreational and commercial species which are part of the Cholera Bank ecosystem.  They name only four species, “blackfish, sea bass, ling and bluefish,” [4] as being available, and state that the recreational fishing season runs only from “April to the end of October.” [5]   Both of those statements are inaccurate.

            The Cholera Bank hosts a year-round recreational fishery, for a host of species.  All of the named species can be found there during November and, with the exception of bluefish, also in December.  Ling, and sometimes blackfish and sea bass, may be caught there throughout the winter.  Cholera Bank is also a traditional fishing spot for cod, which are now making a comeback off Long Island, and can be taken throughout the winter.  It is a traditional summer/fall fishing area for scup, and is becoming an ever more important area to seek summer flounder, which have been subject to constantly tightening regulations which are pushing anglers farther offshore in search of the larger fish needed to meet increasing size limits.

            However, the Cholera Bank ecosystem does not just encompass what are generally thought of as “bottom fish.”  Hard-bottom habitat has the tendency to concentrate forage species, which in turn attract various pelagic species.  For that reason, Cholera Bank has long represented the inshore boundary of the waters in which an angler, and particularly an angler owning a smaller boat that cannot venture far offshore, can successfully seek such offshore species as skipjack tuna, “school” bluefin tuna, dolphin (aka “dorado” or “mahi-mahi”) and some sharks (in particular blue sharks, smaller makos, sandbar sharks and smaller thresher sharks.)  Scombrids such as Atlantic mackerel, little tunny and Atlantic bonito, which do move closer to shore, also frequently concentrate at the Cholera Bank.  The construction of the Facility will destroy the Cholera Bank ecosystem that supports such species, and will also deny anglers seeking such species an important fishing area.

            Discussion of the recreational fishery does not encompass all of the damage that the Facility will wreak, as Cholera Bank is also important to New York’s commercial fishing industry, an industry that is effectively ignored in the licensing application.  Anyone who ventures onto the Cholera Bank will be immediately struck by the array of buoys marking the placement of commercial fishing gear.  Such gear includes both fish traps targeting black sea bass, blackfish (aka “tautog”) and scup, but lobster traps as well.  All such species are concentrated by hard-bottom habitat such as that found at the Cholera Bank; loss of the Cholera Bank as a fishing area will represent a real hardship for the commercial fishers who had previously set gear there, and who will be unable to find alternate fishing areas to replace the area destroyed by the Facility, both because of the scarcity of other hard-bottom areas in the region and because fishermen already setting gear in what few alternate hard-bottom areas exist will react aggressively to any newcomer on their fishing grounds.

            In conclusion, constructing the Facility on the Cholera Bank will cause serious and unnecessary harm.  It will destroy the regionally scarce hard-bottom habitat that the Cholera Bank represents, to the detriment of structure-dependent species of fish and other marine biota.  It will also destroy an important fishing ground, not only for the array of recreational fishers that utilize the region, but also for New York’s already badly stressed commercial fishery.  The licensing application disregards the importance of the Cholera Bank, and generally demonstrates a complete lack of understanding with respect to biological and fishery-related issues (CCA NY notes that that the statement in the license application that “Rockaway Inlet, Jones Inlet and Fire Island Inlet” are located “along Long Island Sound” [6] rather than correctly placing them on the south shore of Long Island probably demonstrates the shallowness and inaccuracy of the proponents’ analysis far more than any argument that CCA NY might make on its own.)  The Facility should not be built on the Cholera Bank but, if it is to be built, on a less environmentally, commercially and recreationally important piece of bottom, which does not include the scarce and biologically significant hard-bottom habitat which should disqualify the Cholera Bank site from further consideration.

            Thank you four considering CCA NY’s views on this matter.

 

 

                                                                        Sincerely,

 

 

                                                                        Scott Emslie

                                                                        State Chair

 

cc:  Judith Enck

      Peter Grannis, Commissioner      

           



[1] Atlantic Sea Island Group LLC, Safe Harbor Energy, Deepwater Port License Application, Exhibit N, p. N-8, 2007.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Personal communication from the National Marine Fisheries Service, Fisheries Statistics Division.

[4] Ibid., Atlantic Sea Island Group, LLC, p. N-8

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

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