State Sues Feds Over Fluke

New York is suing the federal government over its method of calculating commercial fluke fishing quotas, arguing that the state’s 2019 fishing allocations are based on 40-year-old fisheries data, disproportionately affecting our fishing industry.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Attorney General Letitia James announced the lawsuit Jan. 14, saying they are “seeking a revised allocation to give New York’s commercial fishermen and women an equitable share based on current data about the fishery.”

“New York’s commercial fishing industry is a critical economic driver that for decades has been held back by outdated federal restrictions,” said Mr. Cuomo in an announcement of the lawsuit. “After countless attempts to work with the federal government to adjust the quota, New York is taking action and demanding fair treatment of the hardworking men and women of this industry. The message is loud and clear: we will fight this unfair quota until New York’s access to summer flounder is consistent with national standards.”

“The Federal Government’s reliance on inaccurate and outdated data to set limits on commercial fluke fishing in New York is a direct threat to our state’s fishing industry,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “This suit asks that the federal government use the best available science to allocate fluke fishing quotas, and to ensure that New York’s fishermen and women are no longer denied their fair share of the permitted catch.”

Scientific studies have shown the distribution of fluke and the fluke fishery have shifted north toward New York waters since federal allocations were established in 1993. Those allocations were based on data from the 1980s, when the fluke population had been fished to very low levels. Since then, the state argues, the population has recovered — larger, older fish are more common, and these bigger fish tend to be found closer to New York. Fluke are also being found further north because of rising water temperatures due to climate change.

State-by-state allocations for commercial fluke were set in the early 1990s, using incomplete landings data from 1980 through 1989. At that time, New York’s allocation was set at 7.6 percent of the coast-wide quota, while neighboring states were allocated far more. Rhode Island was allocated 15.7 percent of the total, while New Jersey was allocated 16.7 percent. Virginia and North Carolina were allocated 21.3 percent and 27.4 percent, respectively. 

This quota has resulted in frequent closures of the New York fishery over the past two years, and daily trip limits of 50 pounds for most of the past two years, a limit so low that many fishermen couldn’t recoup their fuel cost for a fishing trip.

The Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation & Management Act of 1976 requires that federal fishery conservation and management measures be consistent with 10 National Standards. 

New York contends that the quota assigned to New York State is inconsistent with five of the standards, including National Standard 2, which requires that those measures be based upon the best scientific information available, and National Standard 4, which requires that methods of assigning fishing privileges are fair and equitable.

In March 2018, New York filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, demanding that commercial fluke allocations be revised to provide New York’s fishing industry with equitable access to the fishery. The state also provided multiple formal comments challenging the proposed allocations. The state filed its lawsuit after the December 2018 publication of the 2019 allocations in the federal register.

“I have long opposed the inadequate quota system that has stunted the growth of New York’s commercial fishing industry by unfairly discriminating against New York fishermen to the benefit of other states, and I am pleased with the decision of the Governor, Attorney General, and involved State agencies to stand up to the federal government on behalf of New York’s fishermen,” said South Fork State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, whose district includes two of the most significant commercial fishing ports in New York, at Montauk and Shinnecock. “New York’s fishing quotas for several fish species are much lower than neighboring states, discriminating against New York fisherman. This discriminatory system has resulted in unwarranted economic harm and job losses, especially on Long Island, which is home to New York’s biggest fishing ports.”

“For years New York’s delegates to the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission have tried to negotiate a revised allocation system, only to be blocked by states that are unwilling to reexamine the quota distribution out of fear of losing a small portion of their quota,” said Captain Anthony DiLernia, a New York Harbor charter captain who serves on the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council. “The current allocation system utilizes data that is nearly 40 years old, and this data no longer applies to the current distribution of the stock. Science produced by NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center indicates the stock of summer flounder has shifted north, and policy guidance by NOAA recommends allocations be reexamined every 10 years; yet NOAA continues to accept the same 40-year-old data in the management of the fishery. It is time for a change!”

“The federal government has turned a blind eye to low quotas and restrictive inter-state fishery management plans that are putting unreasonable limits on New York’s commercial fishing industry,” said New York Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos. “These unfair quotas have forced New York State to restrict fishing access and are limiting the economic prospects of the next generation of commercial fishermen and women.”

Beth Young

Beth Young

Beth Young built her first boat out of driftwood tied together with phragmites behind her family’s apartment above the old Mill Creek Inn in Southold. Nowadays, she spends most of her time kayaking, learning about shellfish, writing newspaper stories, trying to sail a Sunfish, and watching the way the bay changes from day to day. You can send her a message at [email protected]

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