The Contemporary Sport Fishery

With the general upgrading of sewage treatment during the twentieth century and, particularly since passage of a New York State Bond Act in 1965 and the federal Clean Water Act amendments of 1972, the Hudson River and New York Harbor have seen recoveries of many fish populations (Waldman, 1999). The increased availability of fish and a growing perception that the Hudson River system has become cleaner has led to a pronounced increase in angling activity. However, this increase has not been well quantified due to the rarity and limited scope of angling surveys conducted, and to potential knowledge lost through consideration of the mainstem tidal Hudson River as an extension of the sea for which fishing licenses are not required. Moreover, despite this angling revival, its enjoyment is hindered by the continuing presence of PCBs and other contaminants in the river's finfish and shellfish and in resultant governmental restrictions and health advisories.

Boyle (1979) contrasted the intense angling effort for striped bass in the mid 1900s along the ocean coast with the dearth of striped bass anglers in the Hudson River, despite the species' high abundance in the river. Boyle wrote: "... only a relative handful of anglers, perhaps fifty at best, regularly take advantage of the striper fishing that is to be had in the Hudson." He also described the Albany Pool as being "so awesomely foul as to be a source of wonder to sanitary engineers" from raw sewage releases and that this caused the river to be essentially devoid of oxygen in summer for twenty to thirty miles south of the Federal Dam at Troy.

But in the last two decades of the twentieth century, as the Hudson River reached levels of purity not seen for decades to a century or more and the striped bass population continued to increase, angling over the length of the tidal river grew in popularity, with the area below the Federal Dam becoming especially attractive as striped bass and other anadromous fish aggregated there in large numbers (Lake, 1985; Zeisel, 1995). A snapshot of this emergent striped bass fishery in 1997 between the George Washington Bridge and the federal dam was provided by Peterson (1998). Using a combination of 37 aerial flights and 2,700 angler interviews from April through June, he estimated the striped bass fisherysupported619,132 angler-hours distributed over 145,842 angler-trips. Of these, the boat fishery was responsible for 71 percent of effort and 84 percent of catch. Total catch was estimated at 112,757 striped bass, of which only 12.5 percent were harvested. This low harvest was attributed to concerns over PCB contamination and to restrictive bag limits (one fish 18 inches or larger north of George Washington Bridge; one fish 28 inches or larger south of George Washington Bridge). This fishery in the Hudson River and New York Harbor became so popular that several, mainly springtime charter boat operations were launched (Vargo, 1995; Waldman, 1999), and annual tournaments are now held. Accounts of urban angling for striped bass in New York Harbor may be found in Waldman (1998,1999).

Another fishery that has grown from one enjoyed by relatively few local residents in the mid 1970s to one that supports charter boats and tournaments that garner national publicity is for the two black basses of the river: largemouth and small-mouth bass (Nack et al., 1993). These species occur in freshwater and low salinity reaches of the river. Recruitment in the Hudson River is low for black basses but growth is rapid (the fastest in New York State; Green, Nack, and Forney, 1988), resulting in a fishery that is attractive because it provides a high percentage of large specimens despite low densities of adults (<2 largemouth bass per hectare; Carlson, 1992). Moreover, these fisheries are primarily catch-and-release, with considerable effort spent in tournaments or practicing for tournaments; Green and Jackson (1991) estimated that as of 1990, there were fifty to sixty black bass tournaments held annually in the river. This tournament activity is centered in Catskill (Green etal., 1993).

There is concern over the effects of tournaments on the Hudson River black bass population. Green et al. (1993) estimated that during 198991 at least 10 percent of the river's largemouth bass were weighed in during summer. Increased handling, especially during warm conditions, may lead to greater mortality (Cooke et al., 2002). Although cause and effect was not demonstrated, the estimated population size of largemouth bass (>280 mm) declined from 22,000 in 1989 to 14,000 in 1991. On the other hand, more recent estimates of populations indicate that largemouth were back up to 22,000 by 2000 (LMS, 2001). Smallmouthbass abundance was estimated at 5,000-6,000 (LMS, 2001). Tournament intensity was lower in 1999 and 2000 compared to surveys conducted in the late 1980s, and the catch rate for largemouth bass in 2000 was the highest on record (LMS, 2001).

Ironically, a new sport fishery has developed for American shad in the Hudson River as they continue their long-term decline there. Anglers have learned that in addition to below the Federal Dam where shad aggregate, they may also be found by targeting particular types of habitat and tidal stages throughout much of the tidal freshwater portion of the river (NYSDEC, 1982).

Several angling surveys have occurred that stemmed from health concerns about fish consumption but that nonetheless provided ancillary information on the nature of the fishery. Belton, Roundy, and Weinstein (1986) surveyed anglers in the lower Hudson River, Upper New York Bay, and Newark Bay between 1983 and 1985. Young-of-the-year bluefish made up 85 percent of the observed finfish catch, with larger bluefish, striped bass, summer flounder, and winter flounder also prominent. Blue crab was heavily fished and was the most frequent species consumed. Two-thirds of respondents who admitted eating their catches considered them to be totally safe to eat and about one-fifth viewed them as slightly polluted but not harmful, despite a New York State Department of Health advisory aimed at limiting human consumption of cadmium.

Another factor that contributed to a recent increase in angling activity in the Hudson River is the development of shoreline access. Many communities have opened shorelines, piers, and bulkheads to fishing with the help of directed funding such as the Hudson River Improvement Fund. New

Table 14.1. Current power plants along the tidal Hudson River.

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