Schumer Announces First-ever Legislation to End Unfair Fluke Regulations that Deeply Punish Long Island Anglers

Written by Long Island News & PR  |  05. November 2013

Washington. DC - November 4, 2013 - U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that he will introduce legislation, “The Fluke Fairness Act," that finally ends the drastically unfair and inequitable treatment of Long Island anglers in the popular and economically important summer flounder fishery.  Currently, flawed, decades-old data-sets are used to set the limits for recreational and commercial fluke allocations along the East Coast.  Furthermore, because of flaws in the state-by-state quota system, New York is arbitrarily saddled with a disproportionate burden of the federal plan for the fluke's recovery.  This leads to a perverse situation where anglers from neighboring states can pull more fish from New York waters than New Yorkers themselves can.  Schumer’s legislation would address these issues by requiring better, more up-to-date data be used in determining catch limits, and by eliminating 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.  

“This legislation will finally bring fluke fairness to Long Island,” said Schumer.  “This bill will fillet the unfair and ludicrous quotas that have been unfairly weighing down our anglers for years.  The Fluke Fairness Act will level the playing field for all anglers fishing for fluke across the East Coast by requiring federal regulators to use more scientifically sound and up-to-date data.”

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC), fishery management bodies created by the Congress, jointly regulate the fluke stock by implementing a Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for both state and federal waters.

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.

Under Schumer’s Fluke Fairness Act, the Atlantic States Fisheries Commission and the Mid Atlantic Fisheries Council would be required to submit a modified Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for summer flounder, or an amendment to the current plan, to the Secretary of Commerce within one year. The plan must reflect the best available science; consider changes in the migratory behavior of summer flounder in establishing distribution of the commercial and recreational catch quotas; prioritize regional or coastwide management measures for summer flounder that comply with the Magnuson Act’s National Standards on equity and fairness; and prohibit the allocation of commercial or recreational catch quotas for summer flounder on a state-by-state basis using historical landings data that does not reflect a State’s participation in the current summer flounder fishery.  For example, this legislation would allow for the Council and Commission to consider creating regional zones between neighboring states to create uniform size limits for recreational fishermen.  Similarly, in the commercial sector, it would prohibit the Council and Commission from using the flawed old data sets to determine quota allocation if they continue the state by state system for commercial fishermen.  Schumer said the legislation is drafted to give the fishery managers flexibility to use the best science and newest management tools available, but explicitly prohibits the continuation of the status quo.

For the past year, Schumer has been laying the groundwork for the introduction of this legislation.  In March, Schumer organized a hearing 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. At the hearing, Executive Director of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, Robert Beal testified that particularly in the recreational sector, the flawed baseline data in the state-by-state conservation equivalency system has resulted in ever increasing size limits, reduced bag limits and shorter seasons for most of the states while the stock was at a low level and recovering. Beal went on to say that the restrictive measures affects New York the most, where the size limit reached 21 inches by 2009. In 2012, with a fully recovered stock, New York’s minimum size (19.5 inches) was at least one inch higher than any other state and one and a half inches higher than Connecticut and two inches greater than New Jersey.  Beal concluded by saying that the latest data from the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP), a more modern survey than the old data used in the 1998 baseline, supports New York’s contention that their allocation is too low compared with the State’s fishing effort.

Similarly, Emerson Hasbrouck, a Cornell Cooperative fishing expert, testifiedat the Senate Commerce hearing that reforms to the commercial allocations were long overdue.  Hasbrouck said, “The NMFS data collection system for commercial landings that was in place during the time period that established individual states’ percent allocation of the summer flounder annual commercial quota caused inherent inadequacies in New York’s allocation.  The data collection system during the baseline period on which the state-by-state summer flounder allocation was based, put New York at a severe disadvantage compared to other states.”

Schumer’s legislation will require the Councils to prioritize a recreational regional management system that could allow states like New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to have uniform size and bag limits for anglers and for commercial fishermen, allow for economically fair rules in commercial waters within the Mid-Atlantic region.

Schumer today said that by wiping out the flawed old data sets from the allocation equation and imploring the Councils consider regional management, New York should be expected to gain the type of fairness in the management system they have lacked for approximately fifteen years.

Last week, the ASFMC met for its annual meeting, where a briefing was held about the effects of climate change and current management methods are having on the summer flounder stock.  In a report included in the meeting’s briefings, the Commission’s scientific advisors said that the migration of the fluke stock to the North, combined with the antiquated management structure of the FMP, could prove disastrous for the fishery if it is not changed.  Specifically, the report said: “It can be expected that a continued northward movement of the stock – and increasing angler participation rates in northern states in response to higher catch rates (Gentner et al., 2010) – may exacerbate the disparity in harvests. This, in turn, could lead to greater conflict between stakeholders and undermine the ability of the ASMFC to utilize the addendum process effectively, particularly given the historically contentious nature of the management process.”

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