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Schneiderman and Cuomo file petition over fluke quota

STAFF REPORTS


ALBANY -- Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that New York has filed a petition with the federal government to establish fair quota allocations for the state's commercial harvest of fluke, also known as summer flounder. The petition for revised allocations would put New York on more equitable footing with other East Coast states by correcting decades of injustice, increasing safety for fishers and allowing more fish to be landed in ports closer to where they are caught. New York's petition, drafted by DEC and the Attorney General's Office, is the first step in the legal process to bring equity to the state's fluke quota.

"New York's commercial fishing industry deserves a fair shake from the federal government," Attorney General 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  Simply put, perpetuating New York's unfair, outdated share of the commercial summer flounder fishery does not meet the requirements of the law."

"Our federal government cannot rely on decades-old data to uphold these unreasonable fluke quotas, as they continue to put New York at a disadvantage to neighboring states, while ignoring the needs of communities across the state," Governor Cuomo said. "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."

New York State has filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council to demand that commercial fluke allocations be revised to provide New York's fishers with equitable access to summer flounder. New York is also reviewing other species where there is an unfair ‎allocation, including black sea bass and bluefish, and may pursue similar actions. 
"Low quotas and restrictive inter-state fishery management plans are putting unreasonable limits on New York's commercial fishers," said Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos. "These unfair and unbalanced quotas have forced New York State to restrict commercial fishing access and limit the prospects for new fishers in order to preserve viable opportunities for current participants. Changes to New York's commercial licensing process must also be made to better serve New Yorkers and support our fishing industry."

State-by-state allocations for commercial fluke were set in the early 1990s using incomplete landings data from 1980 through 1989. At that time, New York's allocation was set at the region-low 7.6 percent of the coast-wide quota, while the state's neighbors were allocated 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. New York's commercial fishers and seafood dealers have suffered under this low allocation since the 1990s, resulting in daily trip limits of 50 pounds in 2017, and 70 pounds in 2016.

Scientific studies have shown that the distribution of summer flounder and the summer flounder fishery have shifted north toward New York waters since federal allocations were established. While these shifts should be acknowledged, neither the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council nor National Marine Fisheries Service require regular review and/or updating of allocations. In addition, an amendment to the fishery management plan that potentially includes the re-allocation of the commercial summer flounder quota has been slowly moving through the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council process since 2014, but has yet to result in the necessary updating and equitable changes to the system.

To modernize and improve the state's commercial fishing licensing system and ensure it is a useful tool in managing the industry, DEC has retained the services of an experienced fishery management consultant. The consultant's experience in managing state fisheries and licensing will enable him to capture the diverse views and needs of New York's commercial fishing industry. ‎

Directed by DEC, the consultant will launch a comprehensive, stakeholder-driven analysis of New York's current licensing system and will recommend strategic improvements to make it more efficient and better serve New York stakeholders. The work will begin immediately, and include a nine-part series of small, local meetings across Long Island, the New York City area, and Westchester to gather stakeholder input on issues such as latent licenses, transferability, the definition of a commercial fisher, license qualifiers, and the apprenticeship program.

Additional meetings with stakeholders and New York's Marine Resource Advisory Council will be scheduled to gather feedback. The fisheries expert will make recommendations to DEC by the end of 2018 for action in 2019.