Tom Schlichter Newsday columnist Tom Schlichter

Tom Schlichter writes the Outdoors column for Newsday.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) released the latest summer flounder regulations on Wednesday. As expected, the new standards set the minimum length for fluke at 19 inches, creel limit at three per day, and season at May 17 through Sept. 21.

According to a DEC press release, the regulatory changes reflect a coast-wide decline in the number of summer flounder documented in the most recent stock surveys. Below-average reproductive success over the last five years is one possible cause for the decline.

Because of the disappointing surveys, the fluke catch limits set by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2017 are the lowest in the history of the fishery management plan, which began in 1993. That could have equated to a coast-wide recreational fluke harvest cut of 41 percent. Under state-by-state recreational allocations New York was facing a 70 percent reduction.

Fortunately, New York was able to work cooperatively with other members of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) to reduce recreational summer flounder harvest along the coast in a more equitable manner. As part of this effort, most states from Massachusetts through Virginia are expected to increase their size limit by one inch and lower their possession limits slightly.

While the new regulations averted a catastrophic reduction for local anglers, few are happy with the outcome. Many party, charter and private boat skippers report anecdotal catches indicating fluke are more numerous than the surveys suggest. Some also question why we continue to target larger fluke when studies show almost any exceeding the minimum size limit are female. Quite a few think a slot limit would make more sense.

Black sea bass is a tremendously abundant species that is currently off the menu until July. An earlier start for this species could take some pressure off the summer flatties.

“It does make things tough,” admitted Capt. Jimmy Higgins of the open boat Captree Pride. “We’ll get our share of fish, of course, but keeping sea bass season closed sure doesn’t help the fluke. How does that work out to be sound fisheries management?”

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“The fluke are here already,” said Capt. Jimmy Schneider of the James Joseph Fishing Fleet in Huntington. “They mix into our porgy catches wherever we drop anchor. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to target these fish right now. At least we know there will be plenty around when the season finally opens.”

“Overall, I’m fine with the regulations,” said Ray Bartlett of Brightwaters, who fishes from private boats. “When the limit was 18 inches I caught plenty of 17-inch fish. Now that it’s 19 inches, I guess I’ll see a bunch of 18-inch fish mixed in with my keepers. I do wish the season ran longer.”

Capt. Steve Kearney of the Point Lookout open vessel Super Hawk said he’s looking forward to fluke season despite the regulation changes. Right now, he’s hot on codfish and ling.

“We fished a wreck Wednesday and had a nice haul of cod with several weighing between 15 and 20 pounds, plus a 29-pound pool winner.”

That action was so good Kearney will head out on another wreck special Tuesday before starting half-day fluke trips on Wednesday. In between, he’ll target cod and ling in waters closer to home.