U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer speaks at a press conference...

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer speaks at a press conference at Captree State Park in Babylon, Dec. 22, 2016. Schumer explained just how critical the fishing industry is to Long Island as he makes his push to protect the 2017 season and this LI industry. Credit: Ed Betz

Fishing advocates seeking to head off what they described as “devastating” reductions in the New York quota for fluke next year are calling on federal regulators to forestall planned 2017 cuts until a more current assessment of the fish population is completed.

Led by frequent fishing advocate Sen. Chuck Schumer, a group of 50 recreational and commercial fishing boat captains and advocates gathered at the Captree Boat Basin in Babylon Thursday to say a planned 30 percent reduction would threaten hundreds of businesses.

“The feds have once again dropped the ball,” Schumer said by using a benchmark study from 2013 and “ideological” assessments to set quotas for next year. “We were having enough trouble with the old limits.”

While the new limits won’t be finalized until the spring, state regulators have discussed sharp cuts to the number of fluke that fishers could take, from a current five per day to two, while increasing the minimum size limit to 19 inches from the current 18 inches, said Steve Witthuhn, a Montauk charterboat captain who sits on the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Marine Resources Advisory Council.

Worse, said Witthuhn and other sport-fishing boat captains, the tentative 2017 cuts would reduce the season to 80 days from the current 128, starting in June rather than May. The tentative season would end 15 days earlier in September. “It’ll be devastating if they open in June,” Witthuhn said.

Neil Delanoy, captain of the Laura Lee partyboat out of Captree, said the industry could live with lower catch limits and a larger average fish as long as the season opens in May. An 80-day season, opening in June, Delanoy said, “would be an economic disaster.”

Schumer said he plans to reach out to the U.S. Department of Commerce and its newly nominated secretary, Wilbur Ross, to address his concerns, including requesting an expedited fluke population assessment and a suspension of the new cuts until improved data is available.

Schumer said he was hopeful that Ross, a New Yorker who was once an adviser on the Long Island Lighting Co. buyout by LIPA, could step in to forestall management moves by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees councils that manage the fluke fishery. Schumer said he would reach out to President-elect Donald Trump, Ross and “whoever I have to to get this changed.”

Fishers in New Jersey, Connecticut and other Atlantic states face similar cuts. New York has a proportionately smaller percentage of the overall quota, so reductions here would be felt more acutely.

Commercial fishing boat owners face a 29 percent reduction that could result in reduced daily catch limits and closed seasons, said Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, an industry group. Her concern, she said, is that taking New York fishing boats out of the market for fluke during closed seasons would further open the market to foreign fish, which already has in excess of 85 percent of U.S. sales.

A spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said planned regulations to set “unfair and outdated fluke limits would severely impact the countless local anglers and their families,” and said Cuomo would work to “pressure the federal government to increase their fluke limits and reform fisheries management region wide.” A spokesman for the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council also didn’t return a call seeking comment.

Planned federal limits on fluke fishing next year include:

  • Reducing the number of fluke that can be taken from a current five per day to two.
  • Increasing the minimum size limit to 19 inches from the current 18 inches.
  • Reducing the season to 80 days from the current 128, starting in June rather than May.

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