Agency catches earful from LI fishermen

Charlie Weimar, left, and his dad, Chuck, begin Charlie Weimar, left, and his dad, Chuck, begin the unloading of fish that were caught on the Rianda S, a trawler from Montauk. (Jan. 16, 2012) Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

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The agency that oversees management of federal fisheries off the mid-Atlantic coast is in the final phases of a survey seeking input from commercial and recreational fishermen on how fishing can be best managed.

Richard Robins Jr., chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, was on Long Island last week to seek comments and got an earful from some of the two dozen fishermen and party-boat captains who attended a session sponsored by the Recreational Fishing Alliance, an advocacy group.

Pointing to lower limits despite the claim that most fisheries have been rebuilt, Dennis Kanyuk, a partyboat captain from Point Lookout, decried the "Catch 22" recreational anglers are contending with.

"We go over our quota every year and can keep less fish," he said. "How do you expect us to make a living like this?"

Marc Hoffman, an angler from Lynbrook, took aim at a largely unregulated practice of trapping black fish in fish pots in federal waters, taking them live for cultivation in tanks and eventual sale as food in markets or restaurants. "Unless you go to regulation of fish pots and tagging of black fish, we're not going to do anything to save that fishery," he said. "It's an unreported catch."

Hoffman, who has served on marine advisory councils, also took exception to the high overall discard rate for fish deemed undersize or beyond quotas. "Throwing back dead fish doesn't do anybody any good," he said.

Robins said the overall discard rate for the region exceeds 90 percent.

Jim Hutchinson, a managing director of the fishing alliance, asked Robinson for relief now from regulations that he said have already decimated party boat fleets. "This community is being regulated out of existence by fatally flawed data," he said, noting the council continues to rely on an old method for estimating fish populations, even as it implements a new system.

Robins acknowledged the problem.

"We can say we've rebuilt nearly all the fishing stocks, but the rebuilding process has been very difficult and a lot of people have dropped out of the process," he said. Management in the past 20 years, he said, has been primarily reactive -- implementing severe rules to deal with depleted populations.

The deadline for taking the survey and getting input to the council is Feb. 29. It can be accessed at mafmc.org/vision.

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