Fluke fishers face a 43 percent reduction in the allowable harvest next year, but state and federal officials are calling for measures to limit the impact on local fishing communities.
Citing a recent report showing below-average reproductive success in fluke populations, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office said this week that a possible 43 percent reduction to fluke fishing in New York would be "devastating" to commercial and recreational fishing interests, and the governor called for a phased-in approach.
"If the science indicates harvest reductions are necessary, they should be implemented in small steps over several years and not through a drastic, one-year measure," Cuomo said in a statement.
There's little debate about the potential impact of such a reduction in the quota.
"It will put us out of business," said Phil Karlin, a commercial fisherman from Riverhead. "We're not going to be able to make fuel money."
The cut "will kill New York's directed commercial fluke fishery," said Bonnie Brady, director of Long Island Commercial Fishing Association in Montauk. She said the industry's "only hope" may be a promised lawsuit by the state challenging New York's low share of fluke quotas.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) Thursday also responded to the planned reduction, calling on regulators to extend its implementation over three years and to complete a new benchmark assessment of fluke.
Next week, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council's Science and Statistical Committee will meet in Baltimore to review recent stock assessments. The committee also will provide new recommendations, which for New Yorkers could include a shorter season, a larger keeper fish size or a lower bag limit.
Rick Robins, chairman of the council, said the agency "clearly is going to be interested in trying to find some way to mitigate the impact" on the fishery. "We will be having a lot of discussions," he said, noting much needs to happen before a final recommendation is released later this year.
"Ideally the council would work with management partners to find ways to phase in a reduction of the quota so we don't have such a dramatic impact on the fishery," he said.
"The governor is asking for us to try to find a way, if there's going to be reductions, to spread them out over a few years," said Anthony DiLernia, New York's representative on the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council.
Jim Gilmore, chief of the marine resources division at the state Department of Environmental Resources, called the recent findings and potential cuts "a real shocker."
"It's mind-boggling," he said of the 43 percent reduction. "In theory, you would cut harvest by that amount up and down the coast."
But New York would be hit harder than other states because it receives a disproportionately lower amount of the coastwide allotment of fluke. On the commercial side, for instance, fishermen here get 7.6 percent of the allowable coastwide quota compared with more than 20 percent for both North Carolina and Virginia.
Gilmore said his staff hasn't begun to consider how such a cut would impact the fluke season because "we haven't crunched any numbers yet." But he said at the 43 percent reduction level, anglers would probably see "very short seasons and bag limits reduced."
The current season began May 17 and ends Sept. 21, with a minimum fish size of 18 inches and a five-fish possession limit.