Schumer: New approach to fluke quotas gains steam

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is pushing for new fluke fishing regulations so that New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut will have uniform size and catch limits. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will vote next month on the proposal. Videojournalist: Chris Ware (Jan. 13, 2014)

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A new three-state approach to setting recreational fluke fishing quotas that would ease restrictions on the size New York anglers could keep appears to have support from a federal fisheries council, Sen. Charles Schumer said Monday.

The new plan, set for a vote next month by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, would put New York on par with neighboring New Jersey and Connecticut in setting the size and number of fluke anglers could keep.

For 2014, that could mean anglers could keep four 18-inch fluke, compared with 19-inch fish for 2013, Schumer said. The fishing season could vary from 128 to 135 days, depending on whether Rhode Island is included in the region, said Toni Kerns, interstate fishery management program director of the commission.

The new regional approach to setting quotas would not apply to commercial fishing vessels in New York, which face a reduction of their quota this year because last year's quota was exceeded.

Schumer, at a news conference at the dock at Captree State Park in Babylon, told fishing captains and anglers, "We are quite certain the votes are there," on the council to change the rules, which for decades gave New York the most restrictive limits because of quotas based on old and faulty data.

"It made no sense [that] a New Jersey fisherman could come into our waters and catch more fish and not have to throw back smaller ones," Schumer said after the news conference. "We'll get better rules for New York."

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Tina Berger, a spokeswoman for the commission, cautioned against predicting next month's vote. "I would never prejudge what a group of 10 different states are going to come up with," she said. "It seems like there's support for it. We'll just have to see how the vote plays out."

Kerns noted the size and other limits are proposals and could change.

"We would still go through a process where the states in a region would look at what predicted harvests would be under different regulations," she said. "The numbers could change."

A regional limit would be the first step toward a coastwide quota for fluke fishing, both commercially and recreationally, Schumer said. He has been pushing for such a regime as Congress considers reauthorizing the Magnuson Stevens Fisheries Act, which sets the federal rules.

"Finally, other states are giving us some due and helping out New York," said Steve Witthuhn, who attended the news briefing and is captain of the Montauk recreational fishing boat Top Hook.

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"It looks like we could have very much increased chances to bring home some keepers."Information about how to comment on the new rules can be found at: asmfc.org/about-us/public-input.Comments also can be emailed tocomments@asmfc.org.

A meeting about the proposed rules is Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Bureau of Marine Resources, 205 North Belle Mead Rd., Suite 1, East Setauket. For information, call Steve Heins at 631-444-0435.

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