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Federal grant goes to research LI fluke population

Federal lawmakers have agreed to spend $1 million next year for research on summer flounder, a key species for Long Island's recreational and commercial fishing industries.

The money will help scientists study population dynamics and mortality of summer flounder, also known as fluke.

The goal is to improve the data that federal fisheries managers use to set annual catch limits. Industry backers hope higher fluke quotas will result.

Members of the New York and New Jersey delegations put the earmark in a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill the Senate passed on Sunday. The money will go to a New Jersey nonprofit, the Partnership for mid-Atlantic Fisheries Science. It's composed of fishing industry groups and scientific advisers from Rutgers and Cornell universities.

"In order to protect our fishing industries and our fisheries, we have to make the best data available," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said in a statement. Fellow New York Democrats Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Tim Bishop, and Republican Rep. Peter King also requested the funding.

Summer flounder has been subject to strict catch limits after overfishing caused the population to plummet in the 1980s. While stocks are now recovering, uncertainty about the estimates of fish populations has led to what some regard as overly conservative harvest quotas.

Among the uncertainties: how many fluke are killed by predators (as opposed to fishing); and the effect of different mortality rates among male and female fluke.

Research indicating that natural mortality was greater than thought helped convince regulators to increase the 2009 summer flounder quota by nearly 3 million pounds, said Emerson Hasbrouck, marine program director for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.

"If the natural mortality increases, that means the stock is bigger than what you thought it was," Hasbrouck said. "If that population level is greater, you can now harvest more fish."

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