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Fishermen shout down proposed ban on lobster fishing

Just three minutes into a three-hour meeting with state officials this week about a proposed five-year ban on lobster fishing in Long Island Sound and southern New England waters, shouting erupted among the fishermen.

About 100 people attended the meeting in East Setauket Tuesday night, which was arranged to discuss alternatives to the moratorium. Biologists recommended the ban earlier this year, citing population declines in waters south of Cape Cod.

Some fishermen said the ban would affect not only their livelihood but also New Yorkers looking for a lobster dinner. "If they shut down the lobster fishery, lobster will be off the menu," said Anthony Sosinski, 42.

These critiques were directed at state Department of Environmental Conservation biologist Kim McKown and other New York members of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which manages coastal fisheries in the region.

"That was pretty much what I expected," James Gilmore, chief of the DEC's Bureau of Marine Resources, said after the presentation. "We're the ones bringing the bad news to these guys."

Long Island lobstermen were hard-hit when the population in the Sound crashed in 1999. About 1.1 million pounds of lobster were harvested in New York in 2008, an 88 percent decline from 1996, the latest data available.

Less than 10 percent of the lobsters caught in the United States now come from the area of the proposed closure, which stretches from southern Massachusetts to North Carolina. But it remains the second-largest lobster fishery and accounted for 19 percent of the nation's catch between 1981 and 2007, according to the commission.

Fishermen say the data supporting the ban is flawed, and they proposed increasing the minimum size of lobsters caught to allow more time for reproduction or simply letting the population regenerate on its own. "This is baloney what you're trying to shove down our throats," said fisherman Tony DeMaula, 72.

McKown said the data couldn't be ignored. "Science is telling me that the stock is in very bad shape, and I think the moratorium would certainly be the best chance for the stock to come back," she said.

The board will take fishermen's suggestions to a commission meeting next week in Rhode Island.

A final decision will not be made until November at the earliest.

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