State files petition with federal bodies that set commercial fluke fishing quotas

Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned the U.S. Secretary of Commerce in October that if changes weren’t made to fluke quotas to be fair to New York’s economy and commercial fishing families, the state would take legal action.

Last week, that threat became more real as the governor and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the filing of a petition with the federal government to establish fair quota allocations for the state’s commercial harvest of fluke, or summer flounder.

In a March 23 statement, Mr. Cuomo said the federal government can’t rely on “decades-old data to uphold the fluke quotas, which put New York at a disadvantage compared to other states.”

“New York’s commercial fishing industry has been held back by archaic federal restrictions for too long, and by taking action to defend fair treatment of our fishers, we will help this valuable industry reach its full potential,” he said.

The state Department of Conservation petitioned for revised allocations with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council.

“New York’s commercial fishing industry deserves a fair shake — not the back of the hand — from the federal government,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “Federal law requires that our nation’s marine fisheries be managed according to the best available science, and in a fair, efficient, and safe way. Simply put, perpetuating New York’s undersized, outdated share of the commercial summer flounder fishery does not meet the requirements of the law.”

Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner Basil Seggos also said changes need to be made.

Local fishermen have long felt they’re left short-changed while other East Coast states have higher quotas. Some are skeptical of what will come next, as they’ve dealt with restrictions on fluke fishing since 1992, which state officials and fishermen say were based on inaccurate or outdated data on the fish population.

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

Daily trip limits for New York fishermen resulted in 50 pounds in 2017 and 70 pounds in 2016 under the quota, officials said.

“We’ve had a lot of promises for the past couple of years,” said Phil Karlin, a commercial fisherman and founder of PE & DD Seafood in Riverhead. “New York has been suffering for the past 25 years over it, where it’s really a shame it wasn’t taken care of right in the beginning.”

But Mr. Karlin said he thinks the petition is a good step.

“Hopefully the governor will get something done,” he said. “It’s in his hands right now. We just have to hold tight and see what happens.”

Fisherman Arthur Kretschmer of Mattituck also noted a long wait for any steps toward change.

“Where have they been the past 20 years?” he asked. “We’re fighting over crumbs here.”

Summer flounder commercial quotas for 2018 were set a 7.6 percent share for New York, while shares for some other East Coast states such as Rhode Island, New Jersey and Virginia are set to double and triple that, out of a total 6.4 million-pound quota in the Atlantic region.

“How is that fair?” asked Mr. Krestchmer.

It isn’t only the fluke quota that has New York fishermen feeling cheated, Mr. Kretschmer said. The state is also reviewing allocations for other species, including black sea bass and bluefish, and may follow a similar legal path, officials said.

Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) met with local fisherman on the issue in September.

“This is an important step in the right direction, but the commercial fluke fishing quota is just one of the many inequities and disadvantages Long Island fishermen suffer. We need tri-state parity across the board,” Mr. Zeldin said.

The congressman’s office released an op-ed Monday in which he argued that Long Island fishermen have suffered in general under unfair quotas and allocations. This comes as the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is rolling out this year’s allocation on black sea bass.

Mr. Zeldin introduced a bill last year — H.R. 1195, known as the Local Fishing Access Act — that has the goal of reforming federal law to allow striped bass fishing in the Block Island transit zone, which encompasses federal waters between Montauk and Block Island.

“The vast majority of Long Island fishing takes place in the Atlantic Ocean and Long Island Sound; waters shared with our neighboring states, New Jersey and Connecticut,” Mr. Zeldin wrote. “Yet, New York fishermen are restricted by smaller fishing quotas than these two other states. That means when two boats are fishing next to each other, one is allowed to catch up to double the amount of the other because it is landing the fish in New Jersey or Connecticut instead of New York. This discrepancy is ridiculous and inequitable. That’s why, when it comes to fishing quotas, tri-state parity is so important.”

[email protected]