A commercial fishman sorting fluke on the Long Island Sound...

A commercial fishman sorting fluke on the Long Island Sound in 2017. Credit: Newsday/Mark Harrington

New York State is considering a series of options to help rebuild the summer flounder population, including extending the fishing season from April 1 through the end of October, as part of a plan to reduce the seasonal take of fluke by at least 28% this year. 

The season last year opened on May 4 and closed Oct. 9, meaning that if the state Department of Environmental Conservation adopted the option it would add 55 days to the season. The catch: Anglers would have to settle for a 1-inch increase in the minimum size of keeper fluke, to 19½ inches.

While it might seem unlikely that increasing the season length by 55 days, or 35%, could reduce the number of fluke taken from New York waters, the DEC estimates it's the most effective way to help restore the population.

According to DEC figures, adding  1 inch to the keeper size limit would reduce the take by 37%, despite the longer season. Nor would the longer season  affect the number of fluke the state would allow anglers to keep per day, which would remain at its current four.

In a statement, the DEC explained that increasing the size limit by an inch helps meet conservation goals because "there are fewer summer flounder at that larger minimum size." 

"The difficulty in catching a fish 19.5-inch or greater allows DEC to open the season and maintain the possession limit because of the lower chances of encountering summer flounder of that size," the agency explained. 

The department, which sets and enforces local rules based on mandates from federal and interstate fish-management agencies, recently began online polling to determine the 2024 fluke season. The survey is available at: on.ny.gov/2024flukescup.  

During last year's season, anglers were allowed to keep four fish of at least 18½ inches long per day. 

This year’s options are:

  • 1. Three fish at 19 inches May 1-Sept. 8 (130 days) — a 28% reduction in the number of fluke taken. 
  • 2. Three fish at 19 inches May 5-Sept. 14 (132 days) — a 28% reduction.
  • 3. Three fish at 19 inches  May 17-Sept. 20 (126 days) — a 28% reduction.
  • 4. Three fish at 19 inches May 1-Jul 24 and Aug. 4-Oct 9 (120 days) — a 30% reduction.
  • 5. Four fish at 19½ inches Apr 1-Oct. 31 (213 days) — a 37% reduction.
  • 6. Three fish at 18½ inches June 12-Aug. 28 (77 days) — a 28% reduction.

Most fluke are caught during July and August, and a large part of that fishing is done from boats, including paid charter and party boats, in bays, the ocean and Long Island Sound. 

For Steve Witthuhn, a member of the DEC's Marine Resources Advisory Council and a Montauk charter boat captain, the decision is a no-brainer.  

With option 5, "I can have more days at sea, and tackle shops can sell more fluke equipment," Witthuhn said. "You can't sell [charters] or fluke equipment if the season is closed." 

Commercial fishermen who fish in state waters and have a separate quota are expected to see a 53% reduction in their fluke quotas this year, Witthuhn said. Last year, the DEC increased the recreational fluke quota by 16%. What changed, Witthuhn said, was regulators' assessment of how well the fluke population was replenishing. 

He said the increase in the keeper fluke size won't  hinder anglers, whom he noted in the past have faced minimum size limits of up to 21 inches.

Still, generally, the larger the minimum size, the more effort it takes to catch a keeper fish, experts say. That means lots more fish are hauled aboard and potentially injured before a keeper is landed. Regulators say more effort generally leads to higher discard mortality, because not all fish survive the effort. The DEC said the discard mortality for fluke of around 10% is included in its modeling. 

It's not just fluke that will see more restrictions this year. Anglers will see tighter rules for scup, also known as porgies. Options include increasing the keeper size to 11 inches from a current 10½ inches, or reducing the current take from 30 to 40 fish a day to nine to 20 fish.

Those who fish for porgies from the shore are likely to see restrictions hold steady from last year, at 9½ inches and 30 fish. The season for porgies opens May 1 and continues through year's end, though one option has it opening April 1. 

Commercial fishermen will see a 51% increase in their scup quota this year.  

The DEC will make a final decision on the season in coming months. The survey for fluke and scup options will be available for online responses until 5 p.m. Jan. 30, and the Marine Resources Advisory Council will vote on the options Feb. 6. Regulations for fluke and other fisheries are available on the DEC website

Local quotas for species such as tautog, weakfish and bluefish will remain the same as last year, but DEC said pending decisions about the striped bass fishery "could potentially change the size" of stripers anglers can keep this year from the current slot of 28 inches to 31 inches. 

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