This year's fluke-fishing season will be about three weeks shorter than last year's, but anglers will be able to keep smaller fish and one more than last year as a result of a newly implemented fisheries management system.
The recreational fluke-fishing season is scheduled to start on May 17 and continue through Sept. 21, during which anglers would be able to keep five fish a day that are 18 inches or more. That compares to last year's season, which started May 1 and ended Sept. 29, when anglers could keep four fish of 19 inches or greater.
At a state fishing advisory council meeting in Setauket Tuesday to discuss the new rules, charter and party boat captains expressed outrage at the prospect of losing two-plus weeks in May -- a period for which some said they had already booked trips.
"It's an economic travesty," said James Joseph, captain of the James Joseph II in Huntington, who at the local fisheries meeting in Setauket called the late start "the worst thing that's ever happened." He added, "Everybody's spirit has been broken."
Jim Hutchinson, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, a fishing industry group, charged that faulty data upon which fishing regulations are based was the primary culprit in the shorter fluke season, and he criticized federal fishing regulators for continuing to use it.
"We're getting hammered by bad data collection," he said, calling for congressional hearings to take federal fishing regulators to task. "We need that May 10th fishery," he said, of the hope many had to start fishing for fluke fully a week earlier.
Jim Gilmore, who heads up the state Department of Environmental Conservation's marine resources division, said the rule changes were a dramatic improvement for most New York anglers, who had faced an even shorter season with worse restrictions if the new management plan hadn't been implemented. Earlier this year, New York state's representatives on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission pushed through a rule change that allowed New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to operate under the same fishing rules for fluke, where previously the two neighboring states had considerably less restrictive rules.
New York otherwise would have faced an even shorter season with fewer fish of larger size, Gilmore said, noting that the new plan is only in effect for a year. New York will work to improve it next year.
"It's pretty good news here except for the season," he said, noting that most of those who fish offshore or from private boats will benefit from the eased restrictions. The DEC will work to finalize the rules over the next month, and formally release them sometime in April, he said.
There was other good news for anglers. Fishing for winter flounder has been expanded in New York waters, even as the fish remain in relatively scarce supply. The winter flounder season was to open March 1 and continue through Dec. 31, compared with last year's 60-day season of April 1 through May 30. Anglers would still be able to keep two fish of 12 inches or more a day.