Just four days before Christmas, Long Island sport fishermen received word that the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration plans to drastically cut quotas for summer flounder, a.k.a. fluke, the most popular recreational fish caught on Long Island.
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer has been arguing for decades that New York fluke size limits, which are smaller than those in neighboring states, unjustly burden New York fishermen.
At a press conference Thursday at Captree State Park in Babylon, home to the largest sport fishing fleet on Long Island, Mr. Schumer said the new quotas are based on outdated data, and if allowed to go unchecked, “will wreak havoc on the Long Island fishing community in 2017 and could sink the local fishing industry – along with the jobs and families that rely on fair fluke rules.”
“It’s not even New Year’s Day and the feds have already managed to drop the ball on setting fair fluke limits based on real science, rather than on outdated information,” said Mr. Schumer in a press release Thursday. “Here again, Long Island is up against unfair fluke quotas that could weigh down our vital fishing economy in 2017.”
“So, today, I am sounding the horn so we can reel in NOAA before they settle on these overly-stringent catch quotas,” he added. “We need fluke fairness, not data models dredged up from the bottom of the bay. The best available science should win the day, so my argument to the feds is to take a look at the science, update the model and get 2017 back on the right track for this essential recreational and job-generating Long Island industry.”
Fluke is the most popular recreational fish in New York’s marine district, which includes over 200,000 anglers and a significant charter and commercial fishing industry.
The most recent flounder benchmark assessment took place in 2013, and NOAA has announced this week that they’ve used that assessment to reduce the Acceptable Biological Catch for New York by nearly 30 percent in 2017 and by 16 percent in 2018.
NOAA had said earlier this year that the commercial quota on summer flounder would be 7.91 million pounds, but the new regulations unveiled this week put the quota at 5.66 million pounds.
The commercial quota for 2018 had originally been set at 7.98 million pounds, but will now be set at 6.63 million pounds.
NOAA’s recreational limit for 2017 had been expected to be 5.28 million pounds, but that number has been reduced to 3.77 million pounds. The 2018 recreational limit has been reduced from 5.26 million pounds to 4.42 million pounds.
Mr. Schumer is urging the Department of Commerce to conduct an updated benchmark assessment on summer flounder, based on the most up-to-date, accurate data.
Bonnie Brady, Executive Director of the LI Commercial Fishing Association said in Mr. Schumer’s press release that Mr. Schumer “continues to fight for fishermen and their communities, holding NMFS [National Marine Fisheries Service] accountable for its non-timely science and its often draconian catch limits.”
“Fishermen and their communities, both commercial and recreational/for-hire, are among the heritage industries of Long Island,” she added. “Those who continue the fishing tradition have been often saddled by the feds with unfair regulations based on inadequate data and untimely science. Without the relief of a new benchmark on fluke, one of Long Island’s iconic fisheries, the people who depend on them may be severely compromised.”
“Basing harvest limits on outdated data and models is destroying the New York fishing community. It is crucial that all federal decisions are based on the most accurate scientific data and models,” said Jim Donofrio, Executive Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance. “Waiting another day for a new summer flounder benchmark assessment is one day too many.”
Mr. Schumer had organized a 2013 hearing before the Senate’s Commerce Committee to explore the problems facing the federal summer flounder management system.
At the hearing, Executive Director of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Robert Beal testified that restrictions have the most impact in New York, where the size limit reached 21 inches by 2009.
In 2012, with a fully recovered stock, New York’s minimum size of 19.5 inches was at least one inch higher than any other state, and one and a half inches higher than Connecticut and two inches greater than New Jersey, leading customers looking to charter a boat to do business in neighboring states with fewer restrictions.
In 2015, Mr. Schumer introduced the Fluke Fairness Act, which would allow the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Council and the Atlantic States Fisheries Commission to create regional zones between neighboring states to create uniform size limits for recreational fishermen.
It would also prohibit the council and commission from using old data sets to determine quota allocation if they continue the state-by-state system for commercial fishermen.
That bill, S.1107, was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in April of 2015. East End Congressman Lee Zeldin’s companion bill in the House of Representatives, H.R. 1888, was referred by the House Natural Resources Committee to the Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans in May of 2015.