NEW YORK ANGLERS GET 18-INCH FLUKE

Capt Joe Paradiso
February 5, 2014

Good news for New York fluke anglers in 2014, as the size limit on keepers this season will now officially drop to 18 inches.

On Tuesday, February 4, after a lengthy, almost contentious debate, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) voted to approve an ‘Adaptive Regional Management’ approach to the summer flounder fishery for the 2014 fishing season.  The new plan will place the states of Connecticut, New York and New Jersey into a management region, with all three states sharing the same recreational bag and size limit for fluke, four fish at 18 inches, with a 128-day season.

One option that had included Rhode Island in the region and would’ve totaled 135 days of season failed; instead, the states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island are grouped together with a five fish and 17-inch size limit for a 132-day season, while Delaware, Maryland and Virginia will get clustered together on a four fish bag, 16-inch size and 365-day season.  North Carolina gets its own region, six fish at 15 inches and a 365-day season.

“Today’s vote requiring that New York’s fisherman be held to the same standards as those in neighboring states is a big victory for our fishing industries, especially on Long Island,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said after the vote. “For more than a decade, New York’s saltwater anglers have endured the toughest fluke regulations on the eastern seaboard – regulations that were unfair and caused the local fishing industry to lose money.  As Attorney General and Governor, I have worked with New York’s fishing industries to make the fluke quota more fair and equitable; today, our hard work has paid off. I applaud ASMFC members for righting the status quo. This approval will go a long way in helping to grow New York’s recreational fishing industries.”

In September of 2013, Gov. Cuomo wrote a letter to the Secretary of Commerce requesting the Department’s assistance in revising management strategies to ensure that New York gets allocated a more appropriate share of the overall recreational fluke harvest.  NOAA Fisheries regional administrator for the Northeast, John Bullard, also received a copy of that letter and in turn cast a vote in favor of the regional approach.

New York Sportfishing Federation joined many other state organizations, representatives and legislators like Gov. Cuomo in supporting this regional approach to fluke management, and submitted official comments in support of this plan on January 20, 2014 stating “The New York Sportfishing Federation, on behalf of our members, the saltwater anglers of New York, as well as those members of the for-hire and tackle industry which rely on a healthy and robust fluke fishery, supports Option 3 – the Adaptive Regional Management approach to summer flounder.”

In our official letter to the ASMFC, New York Sportfishing Federation board of directors noted specifically how “New York anglers of course have been hampered by the largest size & smallest bag combination along the entire Atlantic Coast,” adding that how at the given rate of status quo management “and considering the current management regime, it would take another 6 years at least before New York could see an 18-inch size limit coupled with reasonable days of fishing opportunity during any given season.”

“In addition to the obvious disparity amongst bordering states in the northern Mid-Atlantic region, the higher size limit forced on New York’s angling community in recent years to accommodate a reasonable season for Long Island Sound, East End, South Shore and Staten Island anglers has also increased bycatch mortality on released fish, something ‘NMFS’ focused significant attention to in recent months through various workshops and outreach sessions,” the board also explained.

“To reduce bycatch mortality in the fluke fishery here in New York, it’s imperative that a more sensible size limit of 18 inches or less be implemented; the only way for New York state to get down to an 18-inch size limit under status-quo management we would be by forcing our state anglers to accept an abysmal 70- to 90-day season at best, clearly an inequitable situation given other Atlantic states,” we also noted.

Read the New York Sportfishing Federation’s official comments to the ASFMC at http://nysf.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/ASMFCAddendumXXV_NYSF.pdf.

From a New York perspective, getting down to 18 inches as a size limit without completely destroying our season length is great news.

It’s important to remember that in 2013, New York’s recreational fishing community fished on a 152-day season.  It will be up to the New York Marine Resources Advisory Council (NYMRAC) to reconcile our season beginning and end date with the approved 128-day season.  It’s expected that at least two weeks of fishing season will be removed from both the front and the end of what we had in 2013 to accommodate for the new size and bag limit for 2014.

“As many folks are aware, I’m not just the elected President of the New York Sportfishing Federation, but my paid job is as full-time Managing Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA),” said New York Sportfishing Federation president Jim Hutchinson.  “Both organizations have a pretty clear mission on behalf of saltwater anglers and the marine resource itself; RFA works primarily at the federal level and represents the interests of anglers and recreational fishing businesses in all coastal states, where the New York Sportfishing Federation has always dedicated itself to the Empire State.”

Because of the obvious divisiveness of this particular ASMFC vote, Hutchinson said that RFA as an organization has been taking a 1,000-foot approach to this state-by-state debate, looking at the bigger picture.  “That ‘bigger picture’ as supported by the New York Sportfishing Federation is that  our federal fisheries law is obviously broken, the National Marine Fisheries Service or NMFS for short gives more consideration to the commercial sector than the recreational, and the recreational data collection remains ‘fatally flawed’ and in need of a federal overhaul,” he said.

Meanwhile, all these contributing factors have left New York anglers in the worst shape of all in terms of fluke management, and unfairly punished by a broken system.  As the Atlantic City Press of New Jersey noted the day after the ASMFC vote, “The disparity between New York and New Jersey quotas resulted in a minimum fish size last year of 17.5 inches in New Jersey and 19 inches in New York. Garden State anglers got five fish per day while Empire State fishermen got four. But New York did have a longer season, at 151 days compared to 133 in New Jersey.”

What that newspaper failed to mention of course is that New York’s size limit was over 20 inches as recently as 2011.

New York Sportfishing Federation supported the adaptive regional approach as the best approach to fairly managing the fluke fishery in New York and throughout the Mid Atlantic region, and we’re thrilled at the majority vote providing an 18-inch size limit for our saltwater anglers in 2014.

“With the approval of this amendment, New York anglers have moved leaps and bounds closer to achieving our goal of fluke fairness…while this amendment only applies to the upcoming fishing season, we now have a widespread consensus that New York has been getting the short end of the fish, and that changes need to be made,” added Senator Charles Schumer.

Sen. Schumer has pledged support for reforming the federal fisheries law in hopes of addressing the fishing seasons that follow 2014, and New York Sportfishing Federation will continue to work closely with RFA in 2014 during the Magnuson Stevens reauthorization debate – despite the obvious and understandable difference of opinion in terms of 2014 fluke management.  With a new regional approach to fluke management set for 2014, it’s time to get the states in the region – and the state’s anglers, business owners and Congressional members – united in a common effort to better accommodate our recreational fishing community at the federal level.

Folks who deserve a world of thanks for bailing New York (and Connecticut for that matter) out of a huge fluke jam in 2014 are Jim Gilmore of the New York Department of Environmental Protection, Capt. Tony DiLernia who represents us at the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, and our own angler-in-chief, Governor Andrew Cuomo, as well as Sen. Schumer.  For years, our representatives at the Council have failed to push through any sensible motion to shake up the fluke management debacle – in his first term back on the Mid-Atlantic Council, Capt. DiLernia was able to shake things up significantly, with Mr. Gilmore working overtime through the ASMFC to help secure the final vote.

Having a governor who loves to fish, and who was willing to take legal action against the Department of Commerce, is something worth remembering in November!

Fish on!