New York State on Friday filed a petition with the federal government to demand a more equitable distribution of the commercial fluke quota, saying current rules put “unreasonable limits” on the state industry.
The petition, filed with U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is a first step, officials said, toward changing a decades-old quota that leaves New York fishermen with just 7.6 percent of a catchable annual allocation for fluke up and down the East Coast. Other states such as North Carolina and Virginia get more than 20 percent each of the coastal quota, and often travel to New York waters to catch it.
Local fishermen who have complained of the low quota for decades had been expecting a lawsuit, after state officials visiting Long Island in November vowed to make good on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo promised litigation in a visit to Montauk in 2013.
But delays by an interstate fisheries commission addressing quota inequities until the fall forced the state to file the petition as a necessary first step toward litigation, officials said.
“Quite frankly, we lost patience,” Basil Seggos, commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, said in an interview. His staff worked with New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s office to file the petition.
“The stringent limits on commercial landings of [fluke] in New York ports have made [fluke] fishing no longer an economically viable choice” for New York fishermen, because the “limited revenue generated by a trip often cannot offset the costs, including fuel, time, and vessel wear-and-tear.”
One longtime critic of the governor’s protections for commercial fishermen called the petition effort “weak.”
Daniel Rodgers, a Southampton lawyer and director for New York Fish, a fishermen’s advocacy group, expressed concern that the petition will only further delay action that fishermen need now.
But Seggos said the petition was a necessary precursor to a lawsuit, and will lead to quicker action.
He said, “The governor has wanted us to do all we can to correct” the inequities in the quota, which was set in the 1993 using incomplete and outdated landings of fluke from prior years. New York fishermen this year can take only 50 to 70 pounds of fluke per day while states with larger shares allow boats to land hundreds of pounds per day.
The inequities create economic hardship for New York commercial fishermen, but also put lives at risk and waste large amounts of fuel, said state officials, discussing the grounds for the petition. Some New York fishermen, faced with the low state quota, purchase licenses to land fluke in states as far away as North Carolina. But under the rules, they are forced to go to ports in those states to land their catch, which often is trucked back to New York to be sold.
“I’ll support anything to get us more fish,” said Mattituck fisherman Arthur Kretchmer. “We can’t make a living on what they allo<w us to catch. He wants New York boats to go into noncompliance to protest the quotas.
While applauding the petition, Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) said, “I think it will have no short term benefit. Given the history of these quotas, I think it is unlikely the other states will voluntarily give up any meaningful amount of their fish to New York state. However, it is the only way to get started on a long term solution.”
Restrictive quotas are blamed for the killing of potentially millions of pounds of fish that are caught over the limits each year and must be thrown back, often dead.
“New York’s commercial fishing industry has been held back by archaic federal restrictions for too long, and by taking action to defend fair treatment of our fishers, we will help this valuable industry reach its full potential,” Cuomo said in a statement.