Long Island lobstermen face a longer closed season and tighter limits on the size of lobsters they can keep under new rules that fisheries managers are considering to boost a record-low population.
State marine regulators met with lobstermen last month to discuss possible measures, which also could include a reduction in the number of traps they can set in Long Island Sound and other Southern New England waters.
A draft report by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission last month found that the lobster stock in the Southern New England region, which encompasses Long Island Sound, is at a “record low abundance” and is failing to reproduce at former levels.
The report blamed “changing environmental conditions” and “continued fishing mortality” for the decline, and recommended measures aimed chiefly at increasing egg production.
John German, president of the Long Island Sound Lobstermen’s Assoc., said the proposal to lengthen the closed season, if approved, would keep lobstermen off the water during August, one of the most productive months.
Lobstermen already are living with season closures for the Long Island Sound for most of September through November following a historic 2013 closure.
The proposed measures also could include an increase in the size of keeper lobsters, to 3-5/8 inches from the c current 3-3/8 inches.
German, who fishes Long Island Sound from Mt. Sinai Harbor, said such a change would reduce his catch by more than 50 percent.
Montauk lobsterman Al Schaffer disputed reports of a declining lobster population, citing strong fishing in areas he works off Fishers Island.
“To close us in August is the final straw,” he said. “It’s the highest production month for all of us.”
German said lobstermen at a meeting at State Department of Environmental Conservation headquarters in Setauket last month called unanimously to ease current restrictions.
DEC spokesman Sean Mahar said regulators must meet on May 8 to review and finalize the fisheries commission plan. Local meetings would follow before rules can take effect next year.
“It’s really still too early to determine what management measures will be implemented in New York waters,” Mahar said.
Lobster landings by New York State fishermen dropped to 146,249 pounds in 2015, compared with a record high of 9.4 million pounds in 1996. Between 2014 and 2015 landings dropped 34 percent.
Active lobster permits for the Southern New England region in 2014 were down to 394, including just 47 in New York, from 676 in 2007. The number of lobster pots fished by New Yorkers was down to just 21,127 in 2013, compared with a high of 346,728 in 1998.
German estimated that there are only about 20 active lobsterman from New York and Connecticut fishing in Long Island Sound. He estimated that each fishes between 150 and 250 lobster pots, compared with thousands that were fished in the 1990s — a declined he said naturally reduced fishing.