Cuomo to feds: Loosen fluke limits

Governor Andrew Cuomo stopped by Bridgehampton to witness Governor Andrew Cuomo stopped by Bridgehampton to witness the 2013 Hampton Classic. (Aug. 25, 2013) Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday called on federal officials to loosen their "unfair" restrictions on local fluke catches, which he said are damaging the economies of eastern Long Island and the state.

Joined in Montauk by state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Cuomo said that if talks with the U.S. Department of Commerce, which regulates the industry, don't yield results in coming months, Schneiderman would file suit to ensure "New York's fishermen get a fair deal."

"We have gotten shortchanged by the federal government year after year after year," Cuomo said from the dock of the Swallow East restaurant, with about a dozen commercial and recreational fishermen standing nearby. "It's clearly not fair to New York and it's costing us millions and millions of dollars."

"The size of our catch can influence everything that we do, from the groceries that we buy to the taxes we pay," said Tony DiLernia, a charter boat captain who sits on the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, which recommends regional policy to the Commerce Department.

Commerce officials did not respond to calls and emails requesting comment on Thursday.

Federal regulations that determine the catch limits for fluke -- or summer flounder -- rely on "outdated" data, Cuomo said. States including New Jersey allow anglers to "land" a larger amount of the fish, and as a result are attracting business from New York.

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Cuomo, Bellone and Schneiderman said the data used to determine New York's commercial fluke catch limits date to the 1980s, before the fish population in local waters increased.

"We're still bound by restrictions that were designed for smaller fisheries," Bellone said.

In 2011, 1.4 million pounds of fluke were caught in the state, with a value of $3.4 million, according to Cuomo's office. If New York's federal allocation were the same as in some nearby states, anglers could have caught about 4 million pounds, for $9.8 million in revenue.

The state has unsuccessfully challenged fluke restrictions before, including when Cuomo was attorney general in 2008. New York argued that the state's share of fluke landings was 7.6 percent of the total Atlantic coast catch, while North Carolina was allowed 27.4 percent, Virginia 21 percent and New Jersey 16 percent.Officials with the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said at the time that the "conservation equivalency" "allows states to tailor recreational measures to meet their own circumstances."

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