Local fishermen frustrated by state shutdown on fluke

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation temporarily closed down commercial fluke fishing last Wednesday, as fishermen have reached their quota limits.

The closure is frustrating news for local commercial fishermen and vendors, who said the DEC told them early in the season that fluke fishing would be open from April to November. Remaining open past Aug. 30 puts the fishery is at risk of closure for October and December, according to the DEC. The closure does not apply to recreational fishing.

“It’s really uncalled for,” Phil Karlin, commercial fisherman and founder of PE & DD Seafood in Riverhead, said last Thursday. The fluke closure follows a month-long shutdown of black sea bass fishing.

“As far as the fluke goes, there’s an abundance of fluke fish — better than we’ve seen, size-wise and everything, in the last few years,” Mr. Karlin continued. “We’re continually getting better and the quota keeps going down.”

Commercial fluke fishing is set at a daily limit of 50 pounds per day, compared with higher quotas in the last few years — from 140 pounds, then 70 pounds, according to fisherman Arthur Kretschmer of Mattituck.

“You don’t know how angry I am,” Mr. Kretschmer said last week. At at average of about $5.50 per pound, fisherman lose thousands of dollars when they can’t catch for a month.

Local fishermen and dealers met with Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) Friday morning in Mattituck “to discuss the dire need for reforms to improve Long Island’s fishing economy, including fundamentally improving restrictions on catch limits, allocations and quotas at the state and federal level,” according to a press release. The fishery closures are “of serious concern” for many local fishermen, who need the fisheries to keep their businesses afloat, the congressman said.

In the case of fluke, the state’s “low allocation” and the DEC’s closure are “symptoms of an overarching problem of old data, questionable fisheries science, a deeply flawed appeals process and the state of New York continually losing out to other states when regional bodies allocate fishing quotas,” according to Mr. Zeldin’s press release.

“The current management of our fisheries has created a web of unnecessary restrictions on our local anglers,” the release continued. “These flaws are raising costs for commercial fishermen and charter boat captains, as well as all the small businesses that depend upon the coastal economy. There is so much that can be done to reinvigorate fishing, which is such a cherished part of our heritage here on Long Island.”

Southold Fish Market owner Charlie Manwaring attended the meeting to present the point of view of a dealer.

“50 pounds of fluke lasts about an hour at my shop,” Mr. Manwaring said, because “everybody’s about local, local, local.”

When New York fishermen can’t catch certain species, he has to look out-of-state to buy it, he said.

And while he’s for some restrictions, fluke fishing shouldn’t be closed in the summertime, Mr. Manwaring said. It hurts the smaller local fishermen, who make most of their money during the season, he said.

“It affects everybody,” he said, from the fisherman and their crews to the sellers and their customers.

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Photo: Phil Karlin of PE & DD Seafood in Riverhead docks on Mattituck Inlet after fishing Tuesday morning. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)