Six Takeaways from Thursday's Hudson River Summit

By WILLIAM SHANNON

An Atlantic Sturgeon replica on display at Thursday's Hudson River Summit.                                                                                                    Photo by William Shannon

An Atlantic Sturgeon replica on display at Thursday's Hudson River Summit.                                                                                                    Photo by William Shannon

More than two dozen speakers shared their river knowledge with roughly 400 people crowded in a Poughkeepsie conference room Thursday for the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s 2015 Hudson River Summit. It was the first summit since 2009 and coincided with the release of the DEC’s new State of the Hudson report.

There was lots of talk and enthusiasm, but let’s get right into the most important and concrete things discussed.

Why Striped Bass numbers are down

Multiple speakers related the decline in the past few years of young Striped Bass primarily to the loss of large amounts of submerged aquatic vegetation from Tropical Storms Irene and Lee in 2011. As many creeks washed out into the river during the storms, sediments settled into and onto the aquatic vegetation, damaging and in some cases burying large swaths of the important breeding grounds for Striped Bass. As a result, anglers are facing stricter regulations this year on what size Striped Bass they’re allowed to keep. The aquatic vegetation wipeout has also proved a setback to continuing efforts to bring Shad back to the Hudson River.

The comeback of “Albany Beef”

The Atlantic Sturgeon, which grows to mythical proportions and is the signature fish on the blue Hudson River Estuary signs posted everywhere, is continuing its comeback in the Hudson. The prehistoric-looking swimming beast was so bountiful in the 1800s, it was nicknamed “Albany Beef.” Overfishing in the 1800s and 1900s led to its near eradication and landed it on the Endangered Species list. Fishing for Sturgeon was closed in 1996 and a 40-year moratorium started in 1998. Their generations are slow; taking 20 years between birth and spawn. It’s been nearly 20 years since the Sturgeon ban went into effect and biologists are finding encouraging numbers of newborns. The plan is to allow one more generation to spawn before opening back up the fishery.

Why not to swim in the river after storms

The main contaminant in the Hudson River is not PCBs, but fecal coliform from aging municipal sewer systems and combined sewer overflow systems. Albany has been notorious, discharging 1.2 billion gallons of combined sewer overflows annually and New York City discharges 27 billion gallons annually. Generally, the water is safe for swimming, especially in our area, but your best bet is to avoid swimming in the Hudson during or just after rainstorms. Changes are underway for a $136-million overhaul to remedy Albany’s overflow situation, but it will take 15 years to fully implement. The DEC is working with New York City on a plan that aims to reduce overflows by a third. The city of Hudson is in the planning stages of installing a new storm runoff system.

New accessibility initiatives

The DEC, as part of its 2015-2020 action agenda for the Hudson River Estuary (Troy to NYC), will be looking for more ways to promote connections between communities and the river, including new entry points and increased access to the disabled. Hudson River Valley Greenway grants are regularly awarded, with deadlines this year of May 8, Sept. 11 and Dec. 4.

Tourism impact

According to Jerry Faiella of Historic Hudson River Towns, tourism in the Hudson River Valley directly supports 81,000 jobs and contributes $318 million in local taxes annually. Faiella also said that tourism is the Hudson Valley’s fifth-largest economic industry.

$1.5 million in grant money

Joseph Martens, commissioner of the DEC, announced at the summit that $1.5 million in grant funding will be made available in the weeks to come. About $700,000 of it is earmarked for tributary health to support and restore habitat health for eels and Herring. Another $800,000 is to go for projects like assessing municipal water and wastewater infrastructure, designing new ways to divert groundwater during combined sewer overflows and studying shoreline stabilization on the Hudson River. “When you think about how the Hudson River looked 50 years ago, how it was, it's come a very long way,” Martens said during his keynote address. "Let’s write the next chapter together.”