2005-05-20 / Columnists

On The Bayfront

By Elisa Hinken

The start of the fishing season has been very promising in the Rockaway community and surrounding waters. Flounders kept us all busy, followed by fluke that have been coming up at or near keep size since opening day. The striped bass and blues have shown their veracity as well. If you haven’t had a chance to cash in on the spring run, do it now before they leave our waters for breeding purposes in the next few weeks. You won’t be disappointed. My suggestion is to go on a four hour trip with “The Angler” out of Howard Beach. Captain Tony keeps the boat in the protected waters of Jamaica Bay and puts you right on the fish. If you don’t have experience, let them know – the crew will wait on you hand and foot to make sure you have a pleasurable experience. They give you a rod and reel to use, as well as bait. They will filet your catches too, so you come home with fish ready for the oven or the freezer. Another tip: try to avoid weekend sailings – they tend to be crowded or closed out.

While it may sound unlikely, few people realize that the waters in and around New York City offer terrific fishing opportunity just waiting to be explored. From striped bass fishing in the Hudson River, New York Harbor and Jamaica Bay to catch-and-release fishing on many lakes throughout the five boroughs, including largemouth bass fishing in Prospect Park Lake, Brooklyn, city dwellers would be amazed at the fishing opportunities available right at their doorstep.

To encourage New Yorkers to use this urban fishery, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) recently launched a new program called “I Fish NY.” Using funds from the Federal Wildlife and Conservation Restoration Program, I Fish NY employs hands-on methods that teach participants how to fish, and provides instruction on fish biology, management and regulations, and information about local fish health advisories and environmental issues. The goal of the program is to help citizens enjoy, understand and take part in protecting the fishery resources of downstate New York.

The core of the I Fish NY program is the family fishing clinic. Held at various locations across the city and suburbs, the clinics provide formal instruction to New Yorkers of all ages. Participants receive instruction in the following four general areas: 1) basic fishing equipment and skills; 2) relevant state and local fishing regulations and fishing ethics; 3) fish anatomy, biology and identification; and, depending on where the clinic is held, 4) marine or freshwater ecology.

Family Fishing Clinics are the ideal settings to teach these basic fishing-related subjects. Once participants have received instruction in the four subject areas, they use their newly acquired skills during an hour or two of fishing. DEC provides the rods and bait and assists anglers with baiting hooks and safely releasing fish back to the water. Both freshwater and saltwater clinics have been hosted by DEC, with the freshwater clinics designated as DEC “Free Fishing Events” where anyone can fish without purchasing a fishing license.

These free fishing clinics are a great way for citizens to enjoy what nature has to offer right in and near the city. Participants not only have fun, but they also learn a recreational activity they can enjoy for their entire life. Thousands of people have already participated in DEC fishing clinics held at Lake Ronkonkoma, Belmont Lake and Hempstead Lake State Park (on Long Island), Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, and Ocean Breeze Pier on Staten Island.

In addition to fishing clinics, DEC staff are also offering the I Fish NY program in a few summer camps and school classrooms, In Suffolk County, fisheries staff taught hundreds of girls at a summer Girl Scout camp. Often, Environmental Conservation Officers participated, explaining and reinforcing the importance of adhering to fishing regulations and rules of safety. After the instructional sessions, each scout was given a worm-baited fishing rod to fish in the camp’s lake. Many of the girls caught their first fish through this program.

DEC staff also visited classrooms to increase public knowledge of local fishery resources. This past year, over 1,500 NYC schoolchildren were taught lessons on fish anatomy and adaptations, marine and aquatic food webs, local fish species and fishing regulations. When possible, children were given the opportunity to fish a local water body. Classroom visits help underscore the importance of learning about local natural resources, especially when schools are able to participate in fishing rips to these water bodies. About 700 schoolchildren have participated in DEC-led fishing trips to freshwater and saltwater bodies throughout NYC.

To reach as many people as possible, DEC works with other programs and organizations to incorporate components of I Fish NY into their existing programs. For example, DEC taught high school students from both a NYC Parks Department after-school program and a Brooklyn charter school about issues affecting the fish population in Indian Lake, Crotona Park, Bronx. The students then took an active role in the management of the lake’s fishery. They helped DEC transfer bass into the lake, learned the ecological reasons behind the fish transfer, and developed a flyer for public distribution to aid DEC in monitoring the bass population.

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) teamed with DEC to include the four I Fish NY educational areas in their annual fishing jamborees held in each borough of NYC. NYCHA employees received a concentrated course in fish biology and angler education, created their own educational presentations, and presented these to thousands of children. These children then spent the day fishing at local NYC freshwater ponds. Plans are underway for staff to remain involved with NYCHA fishing events. The collaboration means many children will receive fishery education while enjoying the fishery resources of NYC.

The positive feedback received from parents, teachers, students and local anglers is a testament to the effectiveness of the I Fish NY program. Participants have fun and are amazed to learn about the great fishing the city has to offer. Studies have shown that people are more likely to protect natural resources if they feel a personal connection to them. This is why programs like I Fish NY are so important. Just one day of fishing can lead to a lifetime of environmental stewardship.

I Fish NY is part of DEC’s new Statewide Angler Education Program, which will be developed over the next several years. Through this program, young anglers across the state will have the opportunity to improve their angling skills by independently mastering various angling skills and activities.

Similar to the Boy Scouts’ and Girl Scouts’ badges, participants will receive formal recognition upon reaching each of the skill milestones and upon completion of the program.

Don’t forget to take a kid fishing. It’s such a rewarding experience for the both of you!

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