HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. – A legislative advisory council that advocates for Suffolk County’s marine industry has released its annual report, which this year includes how the group contended with a rising tide of concerns from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2020 end-of-year report from the Suffolk County Legislature’s Marine Industry Revitalization Advisory Council (MIRAC) speaks to the group’s efforts to protect Suffolk County’s fishing, boating and shipping industries during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those efforts included advocating for the safe reopening of marinas and boating operations and securing federal relief funding for those in the fishing and seafood industries.
“Our Marine Industry Revitalization Advisory Council has been a steady, sound advocate for fishermen, marinas and boaters, who have had unique concerns and challenges during the pandemic,” said Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer Rob Calarco, who serves on the task force along with other government officials and industry members. “While so many industries struggled in 2020, marinas went on to safely have a banner year marked by exceptional boat sales and a surge of first-time boaters. As we emerge from the COVID-19 recession, there will be great opportunities to promote local fisheries, protect our marinas and develop a new framework that will enable Suffolk County to provide for more dredging and better protect our bays.”
“I am so proud of the work the Marine Industry Revitalization Advisory Council has done over the last year,” said Legislator Susan A. Berland, a member of the council. “MIRAC has played an integral role in the comprehensive approach we at the County take to bolstering our local fishing, marine and aqua-centric industries as well as protecting and preserving our precious natural resources. I look forward to continuing to work with the members of MIRAC and our water communities to ensure that Suffolk County remains a wonderful place to enjoy our waterways, live, work and raise a family.”
As marinas faced the loss of their primary source of income when their season was shortened as a result of the spring shutdown, the marine council worked with the Association of Marine Industries and wrote letters to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to support allowing the reopening of marinas and recreational boating. Ultimately, marinas and boatyards were allowed to reopen in April, enabling Suffolk County marinas to salvage their season.
The marine council also advocated for relief for Suffolk County’s fishing and seafood industry. While commercial fishermen could continue working having been deemed an essential industry, they often could not sell their products due to the widespread closures of restaurants. The marine council issued a letter to Suffolk County’s congressional delegation, federal agencies and the White House on the need for relief funding to protect the fishing and seafood industries. Under the CARES Act, $6.7 million was made available to assist New York’s marine fishing industry, effective Dec. 1, 2020.
To protect fishermen and crew, the marine council, through Presiding Officer Calarco and Legislator Bridget Fleming, wrote to the National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to delay on-vessel monitoring, which was scheduled to restart on July 1, 2020.
As the South Fork Wind Farm project continued to move forward in 2020, so, too, did the marine council’s work to ensure that commercial fishermen will be justly compensated for any losses that may result from the construction of the farm. The council established a new Cabling & Offshore Wind Subcommittee whose priority is to study the effects of this project on both the shipping industry and the commercial fishing industry. So far, the subcommittee has written to the state, local stakeholders and the Bureau of Oceanic Energy Management to discuss the potential impact of cabling and constructing offshore wind and to make recommendations on how to keep the commercial fishing industry afloat.
The legislature’s Marine Industry Revitalization Advisory Council also worked with local colleges to develop more cohesive marine technology degree programs and certification courses and discussed facilitating within the next year an articulation agreement among Suffolk County Community College, SUNY Maritime and Kingsborough Community College in order to expand access to marine programs. Additionally, efforts to reach high school students who are interested in careers in the marine industrial field continued through collaboration with Western Suffolk and Eastern Suffolk BOCES.
The marine council also continued its work from previous years, including exploration of alternative, sustainable funding sources for Suffolk County’s dredge program. The council has also called for more research and funding to address the continuing die-off of the scallop population in Peconic Bay.
Legislator Al Krupski, also a member of the marine council, said, “This was a good, diverse group of individuals that worked diligently to support the historic marine industry helping to preserve an important economic engine.”
The Suffolk County Legislature’s Marine Industry Revitalization Advisory Council was created in 2018 to give government and the private industry a way to work together to help protect, promote and grow one of the pillars of Suffolk County’s economy. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the marine industry and ocean-related jobs accounted for 33,000 jobs and $983 million in wages in Suffolk County in 2015 alone.
The Marine Industry Revitalization Advisory Council’s report can be accessed at https://www.scnylegislature.us/DocumentCenter/View/75418/2020-MIRAC-Annual-Report-PDF.