Just when it seemed fluke regulations were finally fair, balanced and generally tolerable, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) announced last week that summer flatties have suffered several consecutive years of lower than average reproductive success.
Although this is a spawning issue and not related to overfishing by New York or its neighboring states, the result will likely be a tightening of fluke regulations in 2016. The harvest reductions needed could top 40 percent and, by law, must be effective at the start of the 2016 season.
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"Such swift and steep reductions would be a devastating blow to our fluke fishery," said Capt. Tony DiLernia, one of New York's representatives to the MAFMC, in a telephone interview Thursday. "But there is hope for relief. Governor Cuomo is exploring ways to spread any significant reductions over a three-year span. That was recently done with sea bass regulation, so there is precedent."
According to DiLernia, stocks of any fish are likely to fluctuate slightly from year to year based on environmental factors. Trying to immediately account for those changes can result in painfully stringent regulations.
"Spreading the harvest reductions over a few years would soften the blow," DiLernia said. "It would let us put regulations in effect for several years and leave them alone to see how well they actually work. Currently, we have a crisis every year that requires immediate fixing. That's taxing for everyone involved. We need more flexibility to smooth out spikes in the data curves when it comes to setting reasonable and effective fishery regulations."
MAFMC's Science and Statistical Committee meets Wednesday in Baltimore to review the recent stock assessment and make recommendations. A joint meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and MAFMC will be held Aug. 12 in New York City to decide on management measures based upon the recent assessment. New York will be represented by four council members to the MAFMC, plus three commissioners to ASMFC who will further advocate for less drastic reductions.
Sea bass opening is big
Wednesday saw the long awaited opening of black sea bass season in New York waters and the knob-headed delights wasted no time putting on a show. From Montauk and Orient points, to the South Shore reefs and western Long Island Sound, action was hot and heavy.
"Wednesday was perfect for sea bass fishing," said Capt. Dave Brennan on the Greenport open boat Peconic Star. "With no wind and a heavy fog, we pulled plenty of fish in the 2- to 4-pound class from 80-foot depths."
Along the South Shore, Capt. Neil Delanoy of the Captree open boat Laura Lee, and Capt. Steve Kearney of the Point Lookout-based Super Hawk, reported similar results. Both worked reefs and wrecks for solid catches of sea bass plus porgy, ling, triggerfish and fluke.
"Strong moon tides made it tough to set up for sea bass in Long Island Sound this week," said Capt. James Schneider of the Huntington open boat Capt. James Joseph II. "So we kept fluking and still managed a dozen sea bass per drift. We've been working submerged ledges in 40-foot depths and the action has been steady."
If sea bass are your delight, head out now. The first week of the season often sees the biggest fish hit the deck.