August 14, 2017
NYS Department of Environmental Conservation
Crustacean Unit Leader
205 N Belle Mead Rd, STE 1
East Setauket, NY 11733
Dear Ms. McKown:
The Seatuck Environmental Association, ‘Seatuck’, is a Long Island-based not-for-profit conservation organization whose mission is to preserve native wildlife and the natural communities upon which they depend. To give focus to this effort Seatuck has developed a “Campaign for Wildlife” designed to safeguard, and in some cases restore, such iconic species as river herring, horseshoe crabs, diamondback terrapins, among others. I write to you in regard to this last species and the Department’s proposed rule, to take effect January 1, 2018, to require the installation of terrapin excluder devices (TED’s) on commercial crab traps/pots placed in certain waters in New York State (as detailed in a map produced by the Department). Seatuck strongly supports the adoption of this regulation and urges the Department to implement it in a timely fashion.
TED’s have proven to be a highly effective, relatively inexpensive means to reduce drownings of adult and young-adult diamondback terrapins in crab traps, a significant source of mortality to the species. Terrapins enter the trap, attracted to the bait situated there, and being unable to escape unfortunately drown. Seatuck has documented terrapins drowning in crab pots situated in more than a dozen locations throughout Long Island, in some cases traps in these locations containing several individuals each. It is expected that adoption of this important rule will significantly reduce the number of individual turtles that are able to enter traps, thereby preventing the deaths of countless terrapins, a species that due to its limited reproductive capability can be especially hard hit by the drowning deaths of adult female terrapins.
In an effort to defray the expense of complying with the proposed rule Seatuck (and the Long Island Chapter of The Nature Conservancy) purchased approximately 7,000 plastic and metal TED’s, and several thousand zip ties to attach the TED’s, which were provided to your agency for distribution. Seatuck may be able to provide an additional number of TED’s and ties to assist the agency in minimizing the financial impact of baymen compliance with the rule prior to and shortly after the regulation has been enacted.
With regard to the proposed regulation, we offer the following observations/ recommendations:
1. We recognize the rule doesn’t cover all of the state’s estuarine environments frequented by diamondback terrapins, such as the main sections of the Hudson River, Long Island Sound, Peconic Bay, and the south shore bays, focusing instead, on the shallower, in-shore areas of these estuaries where terrapins predominantly occur. This compromise (along with providing the above-mentioned TED’s), is designed to respond to the concerns of baymen who note that the deeper open water areas are used much less frequently by terrapins and by not requiring the use of TED’s will allow for the harvest of other commercially valuable species such as whelk.
2. We recommend that all of Jamaica Bay and not just the streams and creeks which flow into it be included under the rule. We recognize that virtually all of Jamaica Bay is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, under the jurisdictional authority of the National Park Service, and that commercial crab harvest is not permitted in the area. Nevertheless, terrapins are more abundant here and we believe it makes sense to include the entire Bay area to provide easier enforcement for the DEC as it relates to potential enforcement cases in the many streams and creeks that flow into the Bay. Similarly, given the shallow nature of Flanders Bay and its productivity as a site for terrapins, we urge that all of this embayment be included within the rule.
3. Seatuck strongly supports the proposed dimensions of the TED’s. The 1 and 3/4-inch-high by 4 and 3/4-inch-wide opening has been proven, through several studies and common practice, to be highly effective at reducing terrapin deaths while having no adverse impact on crab catch. In fact, in some studies, involving TED’s with the same dimensions as proposed for New York, crab catch and CPUE has increased.
4. We support the provision that allows for the DEC to close additional areas upon a finding that mortality to terrapins is unacceptably high.
5. We urge that the map the Department has prepared, indicating the location of the affected streams, creeks, and embayments, be distributed to all crab license holders, and further recommend the map be of such scale so as to make it as easy and clear as possible for the permit holder and DEC Law Enforcement staff to be fully aware of the line that demarcates the boundary to the stream, creek, and embayment beyond which TED’s are not required and within which they are.
6. Seatuck strongly urges that the draft regulation be amended to require that all commercial crab traps sold in New York State after the effective date of the regulation be equipped with TED’s. This provision would ensure that the cost of regulation compliance shifts away from the conservation community and toward the manufacturers, and through their trap prices, to the individual users of the traps where it appropriately belongs.
On behalf of Seatuck I appreciate the opportunity to provide these observations and comments on this important rule and we hope the Department adopts it in a timely fashion so that it may take effect January 1, 2018 and terrapins can be afforded the additional protection the rule provides and the species deserves.
John L. Turner
Conservation Policy Advocate
Seatuck Environmental Association