For fisheries’ sake, a voyage to the bottom of the sea

Tug at the heartstrings: But don't be sad ... "Jane" will find new life as part of the New York State Artificial Reef Initiative.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

The annual Dropping of the Junk has once again killed two birds with one stone, while saving a whole bunch of fish.

In what has become a yearly splashdown event, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on Wednesday continued what Albany plugs as “the largest artificial reef expansion in state history,” dumping rail cars, a tugboat, a steel turbine and other defunct machinery along a 744-acre stretch of the Hempstead Reef.

In addition to vanishing thousands of tons of junk (and giving the cleaned and sanitized waste products a chance to settle down with renewed purpose), the effort provides artificial nesting grounds for numerous marine species – critical not only to their survival, but to the survival of regional fishing and recreation industries.

Noting that “fishing is not just a great hobby, it’s also a great economic-development tool,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo led Wednesday’s expedition about three miles off of Hempstead, where the artificial reefs will “help Long Island in so many different ways.”

Fish story: Governor Andrew Cuomo makes his case during Wednesday’s dump-a-thon.

“They help with shoreline erosion, they help with the ecology, they help with the fisheries, they stimulate tourism,” the governor said. “Our children will thank us for [these artificial reefs] years from now. The divers and the people who fish in the fishing industry will thank us next year.

“These reefs start to develop a fishery literally in months,” Cuomo added. “It’s amazing how they stimulate a whole ecosystem unto themselves.”

The third-annual installment of the New York State Artificial Reef Initiative was given some extra heft, literally, by the Wells Fargo Rail Corp., which donated the metal skeletons of 75 gutted and stripped rail cars to the cause.

Better than aluminum subway and Long Island Rail Road commuter cars – which, Cuomo noted, have been used for artificial reefing in the past – the Wells Fargo donation included heavy-duty rail cars used for brawnier hauls.

Train of thought: Heavy haulers become passenger cars for fish.

“These are rail cars that carry lumber, heavy material … they’re all heavy steel,” the governor added. “They’ll be here long after we are gone.”

And they’ll still be doing what they were dropped down there to do, according to New York State DEC Commissioner Basil Saggos, who heralded a quick score for local tautog, scup and porgy populations and a long-term economic win – and acknowledged a boatload of state and local legislators and environmental activists for helping to make it happen.

“This is about improving habitat, it’s about making use of perhaps derelict equipment and construction material, and it’s about boosting the economy,” Saggos said Wednesday. “The economy here [on] Long Island is so powerfully focused on this beautiful ocean, with thousands and thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of economic activity.”