Last week I wrote of the impending fluke regulations and how recreational anglers continue to bear the brunt of conservation. Reviewing last week's column, recreational anglers were asked to accept a 32% reduction in fluke catches. When all was done there were several plans the DEC came up with a pair of which seemed to work best for all.
REVIEW OF THE PLANS. Plan 1: Recreational anglers keep five (5) fluke at 16.5 inches, May 11 to October 1. This reaches our 32% reduction rate. Plan 2: I felt was better and allow four (4) fluke at 16.5 inches, but the season gains 24 days running May 1 through October 14. Other plans allowed six (6) fish at 16 inches, but we'd also close the season from seven to 14 days in the middle of the summer. Plan 3: Plus or minus 4 fish at 16 inches with a season of May 25 through Oct. 1, with a closing for 7 to 14 days.
NOW WHAT? The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) informed the Atlantic State Marine Fishery Council (ASMFC) on April 3 they had revised the Total Allowable Landings (TAL) from 20.5 million pounds down to 17.9 pounds. This due to the Audubon lawsuit against the government on the premise of faulty data and the management plan was doomed with an 82% probability of failure. They won and we are in some mess!
Originally we needed a 32% reduction and now that's become 41%. Each state has sitting members on the board and by federal law must implement federal regulations or they can shut down our fishing entirely. The NYS DEC must now reach a 41% reduction in fluke mortality by law. What does this mean? Well the ominous signs ahead are not good.
NEW PLANS. The need for reduction has a new series of plans devised by the DEC, all of which are not good! Let's go through them as sent to me April 5. Remember this is a breaking story and we're first to bring it to you. They're tabled in this order: Amount of fluke, inch size limit, the open season, any additional season closure in bold type and percent of fish saved.
5/25 - 9/4
7/16 - 7/2
5/25 - 8/29
7/30 - 8/5
5/10 - 9/19
5/1 - 10/31
7/30 - 8/5
5/19 - 10/2
9/5 - 9/11
5/25 - 9/8
5/19 - 9/29
7/30 - 8/5
5/25 - 9/28
8/20 - 8/26
5/25 - 9/17
9/5 - 9/11
5/25 - 9/19
7/30 - 9/18
Each year the DEC asks us to tighten our belts just a little more. Each season we take fewer fish, but at the same time they ask us to keep larger fish. This translates into more pounds of fish being caught.
When I ask the DEC, they say fish pounds are still transferred over to numbers so they can do their tables. However, it has to be the pounds of fish caught that determine the reg's each following year because if it were numbers as they say, if we take less fish each season as they ask why all the cutbacks?
This is unacceptable to anyone making a living on the water. As a recreational angler, I suppose I could live with a three fish limit at 16-1/2 inches. Hell, I was agreeing to four fish at the same size so one less fish is not going to break my bank as I fish for pleasure whether I'm working on the TV show or a personal day off.
It's the men and women in the industry behind the counters of the tackle shops and on the party and charter boats that will suffer immensely if this sort of thing continues to go through.
We are in year five of a Fluke Mortality Reduction Plan and from I see there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Each year the DEC says we need a reduction. I was told by the DEC just last week, if we stayed within quotas for 2001 there may be no reduction needed in 2002 and we might see an increase in the fish we can catch.
Now we need to increase the reduction rate to 41%. While many of you say the commercial sector needs to be cut, well they have. They have very low trip limits and are kept pretty tightly regulated. However, the split of the resource is a problem.
Charles Witek, sitting chairman of the Coastal Conservation Assoc. Fisheries Committee and the National Atlantic States Committee says, "Historically recreational anglers have fished for and caught more fluke than commercial anglers. Right now the split between the two sectors is 60% commercial and 40% recreational. This is wrong and should be changed to at least a 50/50 split. Will that happen? Not any time soon as commercial lobbying is one of the strongest in the nation. In the end it all boils down to a question of stewardship. Do we do what's right for the resource or do we squander its long term potential in order to avoid a little short term pain?"
This writer feels the short-term pain has gone on too long. Every year we're forced to take less fish. Why do recreational anglers need more than three fish is a question many government agencies ask? They say the attitude of recreational anglers needs to change. I say that's never been truer!
Recreational anglers to need to get off their fannies and make the calls and mail the letters the way our parents and grandparents did to get things done. There are many in the industry that are convinced the wave of the future is catch and release only for recreational anglers and I can see angler effort on the water in jeopardy in the future as well! If you folks do not get the message by now...you are missing the boat.
Do recreational anglers need more than three fish to have fun on the water? Probably not, but if someone is fishing for a family of eight, three fish at 16-1/2 inches is not enough. The only light in this storm is it gives us another good reason to take your son, daughters, fathers & mothers fishing on the party boats or visit local tackle shops because the more people on the boat, the more limits of three fluke you can keep!