Fisheries officials from Long Island on Tuesday made their strongest case yet for a change in regulations that restrict New Yorkers to disproportionately lower amounts of fish such as fluke compared with other coastal states.
Speaking before the U.S. Senate subcommittee on oceans, atmosphere, fisheries and Coast Guard, the officials and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who facilitated their testimony, said the rules were crippling fishing communities and were based on often flawed or incomplete data.
"New York anglers are getting short shrift, plain and simple," Schumer said.
James Gilmore, director of the state Department of Environmental Conservation's Bureau of Marine Fisheries, said the system has been flawed since 1996, when regulators reset rules designed to rebuild fishing stocks. It resulted in an "uneven split" in the allocation for fluke among coastal states, with New York getting only 17.6 percent while New Jersey got 39 percent.
"We have to catch 10 fish for every one we're keeping, and a lot of them are dying," he said.
The good news, Gilmore noted, is that regulators for 2013 allowed New York to take some of the quota allotted to seven other coastal states that underharvested last year, offsetting what could be a more restrictive 2013 season.
Gilmore recommended moving away from annually reset management quotas that can make or break fishing communities, requesting three- to five-year management plans.
He called for more flexibility in management plans, as fish populations shift with rising water temperatures and migrational changes.
"We're getting whipsawed trying to manage this every year," he said. "We need a longer time to implement management plans."
Emerson Hasbrouck, marine program director emeritus for the Cornell Cooperative Extension, said a similar historic inequity has hobbled the New York commercial fleet, in which historic landings and a recording flaw gave the state's fishermen only 7.6 percent of the coastal fluke quota, while states such as North Carolina have more than 27 percent.
"New York fishermen are fishing alongside of fishermen from Rhode Island, New Jersey and other states" in federal waters but are allowed "far less quota and thus a smaller trip limit," Hasbrouck said.
The impact is a loss measured in excess of $10 million to New York fishing communities compared with other states, he said.
Schumer called the inequities in coastal quotas "one of the gravest problems" facing New York's fishing industry and said the system must change. He urged regulatory action to fix the inequities, but said he would push legislation through the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Act this year if the problem wasn't fixed.