Management and Conservation
The coastal environs of Long Island Sound represent a unique and highly productive ecosystem with a diverse array of living resources, ranging from microscopic plants and animals that drift with the currents to seaweeds and economically important finfish, shellfish, and crustaceans. In addition, many other types of wildlife, such as birds, sea turtles, and marine mammals, spend all or part of their lives in the Sound, on its shores, or in its watershed.
These living resources are important to people. Commercial and recreational fishing in Long Island Sound contributed more than $1.2 billion to the regional economy in 1990. Moreover, the opportunity to observe and appreciate the Sound’s plants and animals is in itself an enjoyment of the Sound for millions of the region’s residents and visitors.
While there are still abundant living resources in the Sound and in its watershed, there is little doubt that their overall abundance and diversity have been diminished by indifferent human uses of Long Island Sound and its resources.
The Cause of the Problem
A principal human cause of harm to the Sound’s living resources is water pollution. The Management Conference has identified hypoxia as the major water quality problem in Long Island Sound. The effects of hypoxia and the other priority water quality problems on living resources have been addressed in previous sections of this summary.
There are two more negative human influences on living resources — destruction and degradation of habitat and overharvesting from fishing and hunting.
- Approximately 25 percent to 35 percent of the Sound’s tidal wetlands have been destroyed during the last century by filling, dredging, and development. These wetlands are critical breeding areas and help filter pollutants from land runoff, including nutrients. This trend was halted in the 1970s after wetland protection laws were passed.
- While tidal wetland loss has been checked by the adoption of wetland regulatory programs, significant wetland areas are degraded as a result of past human disturbance and modification. Additional wetlands are becoming degraded by ongoing activities, as evidenced by the rapid spread of common reed into brackish and fresh tidal wetlands.
- Dams built on Connecticut rivers and streams have restricted the upstream movement of migrating fish, such as alewives, smelt, blueback herring, shad, and salmon.
- Overall in the Sound there has been a significant decrease in the quantity and distribution of submerged aquatic vegetation. This is believed to be linked to nutrient enrichment.
- Non-native species introduced into Long Island Sound and populations of certain native species that have grown too large have caused damage by preying upon or competing with sensitive species such as beach nesting birds.
- Species such as winter flounder, lobster, bluefish, diamondback terrapins, and many others have been harvested to the point where it is essential to manage fishing and hunting activities.
The Plan to Solve the Problem
The states of Connecticut and New York and the federal government have long managed and protected the coastal lands and aquatic habitats of the Sound’s living resources, and have implemented management programs to protect living resources from overharvesting. The Management Conference recognizes the need to maintain these ongoing conservation programs and to make priority improvements. Critical ongoing programs include:
- State and federal regulatory programs that protect tidal wetlands and other productive habitats, such as intertidal sand and mud flats and submerged aquatic vegetation;
- Habitat restoration and enhancement activities;
- Fisheries management, including population monitoring, and species regulation and restoration; and
- Wildlife management, including population monitoring and programs to protect and restore populations of endangered and threatened coastal plants and animals.
The Management Conference recognizes the importance of these programs in meeting its goals for the living resources of Long Island Sound, and urges the states and federal agencies to maintain them. The Management Conference recommends the following enhancements to ongoing habitat management programs:
- A Soundwide system of reserves, consisting of the most significant and essential habitats, should be established. This should include designation of existing reserves and the acquisition of fee title or easement of additional habitats as they are needed to complete the reserve system. Acquisition of identified priority sites would cost an estimated $30 million. The states of Connecticut and New York need to develop or enhance and fully fund long-term land conservation funds for acquisitions and as a match for the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. In New York state, the Environmental Protection Fund enacted in 1993 can meet that need, provided that additional revenues are dedicated to the fund, and the Open Space Conservation Plan associated with the fund can guide acquisition activities. The Management Conference advocates a major revitalization of the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, including enhancement of grants to states and acquisition of federal refuges. Local land trusts also need to be developed or enhanced to supplement a Soundwide reserve system.
- Existing state and federal programs to restore and enhance tidal wetlands and other habitats need to be enhanced. Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act funds and Long Island Sound Challenge Grant funds, among others, should be used for this purpose. Each state’s fish and wildlife and coastal management programs need to develop a coordinated strategy to inventory and prioritize habitat restoration and enhancement needs, and to cooperatively implement restoration programs using all available state and federal resources. Development of a strategy will require $700,000 per year in additional funding. The estimated cost of implementing habitat restoration and enhancement projects is $1.7 million.
- Existing state and federal programs to manage and restore populations of harvestable and endangered and threatened species need to be enhanced. Related management activities might include shellfish projects such as oyster cultch placement and shellfish seed stocking, artificial reef development in New York state, and reestablishing migratory finfish passage in Connecticut. Enhancement of species management programs will require $1.76 million per year of additional funding. Implementation of projects benefitting species will cost approximately $1.4 million. Funding from sources such as the Sport Fish Restoration Act (The Dingell-Johnson and Wallop-Breaux Acts), the 1993 federal Atlantic Coast Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act, the Pittman-Robertson Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act should be used for these activities.
Implementing these actions along with the actions to improve water quality discussed in the preceding sections should enhance prospects for a healthy ecosystem with balanced and diverse populations of indigenous plants and animals, improved abundance and distribution of harvested species, and edible species suitable for unrestricted human consumption.
Costs and Funding
Successful implementation of the plan is predominantly contingent upon the states and federal agencies receiving, at a minimum, level funding for existing programs associated with living resources and habitat management. New funding of approximately $2.46 million per year is needed for living resources and habitat management program enhancements and $33.1 million is needed for living resources and habitat project implementation. The Management Conference recommends that $10 million of the recommended $50 million Long Island Sound Challenge Grant Program (as introduced in the Hypoxia section) be used for habitat acquisition and to initiate habitat restoration actions.