A 4AM Fishing Adventure: Lessons from New York City’s Jamaica Bay

This is a view of the Manhattan skyline from the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens. Credit: Jeffrey Bary

I wish all National Wildlife Federation members could have joined me on a recent spring fishing outing in New York City’s Jamaica Bay.  The restoration of one of the region’s most important ecological areas, alongside one of the world’s largest cities, is truly spectacular. I am appreciative of so many people’s hard work that made this recovery possible.

Subway crossing over the Bay as we headed out to fish. Photo credit: Curtis Fisher/NWF

Seeing the sunrise on this hidden natural treasure made getting up at 4am to hit the water with Captain John McMurray totally worth it! The good news for me was the fish were biting early. I did a little fly fishing (until my arms got exhausted) using a spinning rod and caught my first striped bass, which was big thrill. It’s always fun to catch and release, giving these relatively smaller striped bass a chance to grow into monster fish over 26 inches. They are a beautiful “trophy species” with their very visible stripes and colors.

It was great sharing a morning with Captain McMurray who is not just a great captain, but a dedicated conservationist as well. He has been working to protect the area’s fishery for years, including “the most important fish in the sea” – Menhaden.  Beyond his amazing fishing knowledge, Capt. McMurray shared great insights about the need to create “abundant fisheries.”  This concept is completely different than the current practice of setting fishing limits based on a “sustainable catch.” In short, we should not allow fish quotas to take the next to last fish possible to maximize the catch. Instead, we should create healthy and resilient fish populations that can survive downturns due to major shifts in the environment, specifically those brought on by climate change. We also need an “ecosystem” approach that values wildlife and the recreational and economic benefits of abundant fisheries, such as whales returning to NY harbor.

Captain McMurray with my friend Gretchen bringing in the first fish of the day. Photo credit: Curtis Fisher/NWF

National Wildlife Federation is also working with Capt. McMurray and others on a project called Anglers for Offshore Wind.  The project’s goal is to work with the recreational fishing community to provide anglers with the information and resources to ensure offshore wind projects are responsibly developed in the coming years. As National Wildlife Federation’s Director of Conservation Partnership, Zach Cockrum, shared in a recent blog, fisherman can literally fish alongside of offshore wind turbines that create a substantial amount of micro-reef like ecosystem that attracts a range of fish species.

We often think about past generations’ contribution to our well-being. From the great generation that defeated the Nazis and the Axis powers to our great grandparents building amazing libraries, public transit infrastructure and museums.  I think we should all be extremely proud that National Wildlife Federation’s members and many other conservationists’ contributions and time resulted in the restoration of a natural treasure like Jamaica Bay.

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Curtis Fisher, NWF Northeast Regional Executive Director, fishing in NYC’s Jamaica Bay. Photo credit: Curtis Fisher