It was the busy Labor Day Weekend, and Southold Fish Market owner Charlie Manwaring had been forced to stock his popular East End restaurant and market with out-of-state fluke for the first time in recent memory.
“This is my backyard, and on a holiday weekend I have no fluke,” he complained to Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) at a meeting Friday morning with two dozen angry Long Island fishermen and women at the Mattituck fishing dock. “I have to rely on Rhode Island and Jersey and Massachusetts and Carolina.”
Late last month, state regulators, working with a limited New York quota from a multistate fishery council, shut down the commercial fluke fishery for September.
As a result, Manwaring and other local shop owners will “pay more, the fish will cost customers more, and they’ll be older,” said Bob Hamilton, a trawler operator out of Greenport, who typically sells his fluke to Southold Fish Market. “It’s just people in fisheries management who have no understanding of running a business.”
“The fluke paid our bills,” said Cindy Kaminsky, who fishes commercially out of Mattituck. “It’s hard to be just put out of business, and it’s a month out of a short fishing period. We don’t fish in winter and every year it gets a little bit worse.”
DEC spokesman Sean Mahar said the closure was the result of fishermen having “reached period quota limits for the popular” fluke this summer. Remaining open past Aug. 31, he said, would put the fishery “at risk of closure” from October through December.
While the New York commercial fluke fishery is closed, fishermen with licenses in other states with considerably larger percentages of the coastal quota for fluke continue to fish, including in waters off New York. Even New York fishermen with, say, New Jersey permits, can fish, but they must land their catch in New Jersey.
New York gets 7.6 percent of the Atlantic states’ quota, compared with more than 20 percent each for North Carolina and Virginia, even though most of the fish are off New York waters.
“Nobody’s been willing to stand up and say to lawmakers, ‘You need to make this fair to New York fishermen,’ ” said Southampton attorney Dan Rodgers of New York Fish, an advocacy group. He supported a call by some fishermen at the meeting to go out of compliance with regulations that limit New York’s share of fluke and other fisheries. “Why should New York continue to cooperate in a system that’s not treating New York fairly?”
Arthur Kretschmer, another Mattituck trawler captain, said he supported the idea of not complying on fluke, arguing that complaints to regulators haven’t resulted in any changes. “They’ve become immune to our anger,” he said. He recommended going into noncompliance not only for fluke but also for black sea bass and scup. “It seems like there’s no other choice,” he said.
Zeldin said he “wouldn’t recommend anyone going out of being in compliance,” but he also assured fishermen he’d contact state regulators. “The reason for me being here is to change the regulations,” he said.
That wasn’t enough for some. “Go see Trump and tell him what we’re up against,” said Riverhead fisherman Phil Karlin. “This fishery has been depressed for the last 25 years. What’s going to make it better?”