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Fishermen sound off on plan for commercial fishing permit system

George Lapointe, a consultant for the state Department

George Lapointe, a consultant for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, outlines his commercial fishing permit recommendations during a meeting at Stony Brook University on July 9. Credit: Newsday / Mark Harrington

Fishermen from across Long Island sounded off this week about the state’s draft plan to overhaul the commercial fisheries licensing system, with some outraged at the prospect of losing long-held permits.

Two dozen fishermen showed up at the Bishop Molloy Recreational Center in Point Lookout Tuesday to weigh in on the plan drafted by Maine fisheries consultant George Lapointe, who was brought in by the state to help update a licensing system many argue keeps young fishermen out of the industry. Another hearing was Wednesday night in East Hampton.

Among Lapointe's proposals are: re-establishing a minimum $15,000 annual income from commercial fishing to qualify for licenses, eliminating a requirement that heirs of fishermen live in the same homes to inherit licenses, and starting an apprenticeship program for younger fishermen currently locked out of licensing allocations.

Lapointe’s recommendations didn’t include a plan to buy back long-held licenses, a fact some have grumbled over, or to allow the sale or transfer of permits — something he said should be looked at in three to five years, once current issues are resolved.

At the East Hampton meeting Wednesday night, a group of 40 commercial fishermen, most over 50, were near unanimous in urging the state not to take away fishermen’s permits for failure to hit income thresholds.

Charlie Niggles, an East Hampton fishermen whose sons keep permits even though they don’t always fish, said their ability to retain permits is essential for knowledge of fishing grounds and fishing to be passed on the future generations. “All this knowledge is going to be gone” if heirs are denied permits because they don’t hit an income level.

Billy Schultz, a veteran fisherman from Springs, noted “a lot of baymen are part time and of an older age” and face a greater likelihood of losing a license by failing to hit the threshold. “I’m against any kind of a restriction on the licenses,” he said.

Julie Evans told the DEC she believed she should have been able to inherit her husband’s striped bass tags when he passed away 12 years ago, but said a DEC officer threatened her against even applying for them. She was a partner in their boat and has struggled to replace that bass income. She suggested a policy that makes it harder for veteran fishermen to keep their licenses was “kind of discriminatory.”

On Tuesday, Richard Hunter, 76, a longtime commercial fisherman from Queens Village who fishes from Freeport, said governmental restrictions on catching fish, rising expenses and other factors would make it nearly impossible for him to meet the recommended $15,000 annual income threshold for three consecutive years. “You tell me I’ve got to show $15,000 in income?” he said. “What do I got? Sea bass is closed more than it’s open … How do I show this?”

Commercial fishing, he said, was never a job "you retire from. You retire into" it, supplementing his meager pension and Social Security. He urged officials not to take it away. 

Lapointe has pointed out that around a third of the more than 950 commercial food-fish licenses issued in the state are not actively fished. Retiring some of those licenses could allow the state to reissue permits to closed fisheries such as fluke or striped bass, where past permit or tag holders hold sway.

 On Tuesday, Mike Jacobs, 74, a commercial fishermen from Wantagh, said

fishermen such as him are “in a different season of our lives” and may not fish as regularly. “Yanking your license … there is something unjust about that.”

Department of Environmental Conservation marine division chief James Gilmore stressed to fishermen that the draft proposal is not finalized, and that fishermen's comments would inform any final recommendations. The comment period to weigh in on the proposal is open until Sept. 30.


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