Schumer: NY Anglers On Verge of Major Victory, Securing Fairness Between States

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Outdated, Inaccurate Fluke Quotas Based on Flawed Data — Developed Over A Decade Ago — Impose Unreasonable Restrictions On LI Anglers

January 14. 2014 - New York, NY - U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that he is pushing a key federal fishery council to approve a proposed amendment that would end, for the 2014 fishing year, the drastically unfair and inequitable treatment of Long Island anglers in the popular and economically important summer flounder fishery.  Such a move would be the first time that New York has achieved fluke fairness, and would be a major, groundbreaking step forward in achieving permanent change.  It signals that the vast majority of the States involved agree that New York anglers are getting the short end of the stick, and want to pave the way to make a new regional system permanent - the goal that Schumer and his allies in the fishing community have been pursuing for almost a decade.   Schumer also said until these changes are passed and made permanent, he will continue to push his legislation, The Fluke Fairness Act, that would codify these changes into law.

“There is no question about it - the passage of this amendment, bringing fluke fairness to our anglers 2014 is a groundbreaking step forward that pays the way for a permanent overhaul of this backwards system,” said Schumer. “It is time to fillet these arcane quotas and put in place a new, fair, region-based system that puts Long Islanders on a level playing field with our neighbors.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), one of the two fishery management bodies authorized by the Congress to jointly regulate the fluke stock by implementing a Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for both state and federal waters, will vote on adopting a uniform bag- and size-limit for fluke in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut waters in 2014.  If it passes, Addendum XXV would recommend the type of regional approach to fluke quota-setting that Schumer has been advocating for over the past decade. Schumer said that this change is good news for anglers in 2014, but that he will continue to push his federal legislation, the Fluke Fairness Act of 2013, unless a permanent fix is adopted by the fishery councils in the future. Additionally, at Schumer’s request, the Council and Commission have established a working group to study a long-term fix to the summer flounder management plan that will work on a parallel track with the proposed 2014 changes.  

“I wholeheartedly urge the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to approve Addendum XXV, which would adopt regional management measures for the 2014 recreational summer flounder fishery. If the Commission refuses to approve the Addendum and one of the region-based fluke quota options, then the only fair alternative is to go back to a coast-wide allocation system.  Under no circumstances should the Commission allow summer flounder management to remain on the unfair and scientifically-flawed status quo state-by-state plan.”

Under the current fluke guidelines, which are done on a state-by-state basis, flawed, decades-old data-sets are used to set limits for recreational and commercial fluke allocations along the East Coast. Because of flaws in this state-by-state quota system, New York is arbitrarily saddled with a disproportionate burden of the federal plan for the fluke's recovery from overfishing. These quotas actually have led to a perverse situation where commercial anglers from neighboring states can pull more fish from New York waters than New Yorkers themselves can and recreational anglers are forced to throw back fish that are legal in New Jersey or Connecticut waters.

However, Addendum XXV, which is currently being considered by ASMFC, and is scheduled for a vote next month, would put an end to this state-by-state quota system in 2014 and replace it with one of two regional options. According to Addendum XXV, the specific regional groupings being considered for the new fluke quotas are (1) Massachusetts; Rhode Island through New Jersey; Delaware through Virginia; and North Carolina or (2) Massachusetts and Rhode Island; Connecticut through New Jersey; Delaware through Virginia; and North Carolina.

If this addendum passes, New York anglers would have parity with their neighboring states for the first time in years, with a proposed size limit of 18 inches and a bag limit of 4 fish. Schumer said, “Either of these regional options would be a historic breakthrough in the decades-long stalemate that has plagued New York’s recreational summer flounder industry.”

For instance, last year, with a fully recovered stock, New York’s minimum size (19”) was at least one inch higher than any other state, one and a half inches higher than its bordering states, according to the ASFMC proposal.  Schumer also said that if the ASMFC does not approve the addendum, they should use a full coast-wide allocation system instead of the old state-by-state plan that would negatively impact New Yorkers.

Schumer has worked with the ASMFC, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and other stakeholders regarding the inequities plaguing the hardworking men and women of New York’s commercial and recreational summer flounder industry for over a decade.  Earlier this year, Schumer introduced “The Fluke Fairness Act," which would require the councils to modify the current Fishery Management Plan for fluke using better, more up-to-date data in determining catch limits, and eliminates the state-by-state inequities that restrict New Yorkers from catching a fair amount of the increasingly abundant fluke that populate New York’s waters.  Schumer also organized a hearing in March before the Senate’s Commerce Committee entitled, “Developments and Opportunities in U.S. Fisheries Management” to specifically explore the problems facing the summer flounder management system.  Schumer said that if the Commission fails to approve regional management for 2014 and if it fails to institute a long-term, permanent change thereafter, he would work to include the Fluke Fairness Act of 2013 in the next federal fisheries reauthorization bill.

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.  According to New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation and other experts, the Council and Commission use flawed data sets from the fishing seasons 1980-1989 and 1998 to set the quota allocations for each state’s commercial and recreational fluke industries, respectively.  These data sets do not consider recent and significant changes in the fluke population and fishing patterns. New York receives only a tiny fraction of this potential catch: approximately 7.6% for the commercial sector and 17% in the recreational sector.  Compared to other neighboring states, these allocations are not commensurate with the size and participation of New York’s fishing sector, known as the amount of “fishing effort,” and the abundance of fluke in New York’s waters.  This creates a chaotic system of disparate and nonsensical catch limits in each state that scientists and fishery managers say is a poor way to manage an important recovering fish stock.  For example, in 2008 an angler on the New York side of Raritan Bay could land four fluke per day with each fish measuring at least 20.5 inches long while someone on the New Jersey side of the bay could land eight fluke at only 18 inches long.

Schumer today said that the ASMFC must approve Addendum XXV, which it is set to vote on next month. This addendum will permit fluke management measures by region and put an end to the current state-by-state system that has plagued New York fishermen for fifteen years. Schumer says Addendum XXV will insert equity, fairness and good science back into summer flounder management and help bring parity to Long Island anglers.

A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is below:

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission

C/O Robert Beal, Executive Director

1050 N. Highland Street, Suite 200A-N

Arlington, VA 22201

RE: Draft Addendum XXV

Dear Representatives of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission,

Over the past decade, I have worked with the Commission, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and other stakeholders regarding the inequities plaguing the hardworking men and women of New York’s commercial and recreational summer flounder industry.  Since my last correspondence dated February 19, 2013, I have arranged a congressional hearing in the U.S. Senate on this issue and introduced legislation, the Fluke Fairness Act of 2013, that would require the Commission and the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (MAFMC) to work together to amend the summer flounder management plan using the best science and data available.  I have also worked with the Commission and Council leadership and our New York State representatives to enact changes through the Addendum process.  Therefore, I am encouraged that the Commission is considering Draft Addendum XXV after many years of pressure from my office, colleagues and constituents.

For summer flounder, the Draft Addendum proposes options that allow for management measures by region, a cause I have long championed that will insert equity, fairness and good science back into summer flounder management.   According to the Addendum, the specific regions being considered are (1) Massachusetts; Rhode Island through New Jersey; Delaware through Virginia; and North Carolina and (2) Massachusetts and Rhode Island; Connecticut through New Jersey; Delaware through Virginia; and North Carolina.  Either of these regional options would be a historic breakthrough in the decades-long stalemate that has plagued New York’s recreational summer flounder industry.  For the first time in years, New York fishermen would have parity with their neighboring states with a size limit of 18 inches and a bag limit of 4 fish.  I strongly support these approaches and urge the Commission to approve one of them.  If the Commission refuses to approve one of these options, then the only fair alternative is to go back to a full Coastwide allocation system.  Under no circumstances should the Commission allow summer flounder management to remain on the status quo state-by-state plan.

According to the Commission, the Draft Addendum was “initiated to address a growing concern that current summer flounder management measures are not providing recreational fishermen along the coast with equitable harvest opportunities to the resource.”  On behalf of hundreds of thousands of recreational fishermen and charter boat captains, I can tell you that the State of New York wholeheartedly agrees and urges you to adopt regional management measures for the 2014 recreational summer flounder fishery.

Please feel free to reach out to Gerry Petrella of my Washington staff at 202-224-6542 with any questions.

Sincerely,
Charles E. Schumer
U.S. Senator

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