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Pressure mounting to reject quota cuts for black sea bass

Hundreds of fishermen and women packed a hall

Hundreds of fishermen and women packed a hall at Stony Brook University on Tuesday to demand an easing of fishing quotas.

With the fishing season approaching, state fisheries officials are under greater pressure than ever to reject mandates from federal and coastal fisheries regulators to limit New York’s quota for abundant black sea bass.

New York’s top fisheries regulator said Thursday, the state was reviewing a range of tools to push back against the quota, including even noncompliance with the federal rules if a recently filed appeal or a lawsuit fails to change reductions in the fishery.

“I’m prepared to go to the bear cage on this if it means having to take more drastic action,” state Environmental Conservation commissioner Basil Seggos said in an interview. Noncompliance is “an option that’s on the table for us. We have to approach that carefully and understand the full implications of that and exhaust all the other options” before considering it, he said. In any case, he said, “I don’t want to see our fishermen take a cut this year or next year.”

New York recreational anglers and boat captains face a 12 percent reduction for black sea bass this year, which would translate into a shorter season and fewer keeper fish each day. Black sea bass are a particularly vital species for recreational boats, in part because the fish are so plentiful. The black sea-bass fishery has been restored to more than 2 1⁄2 times the levels that regulators consider sufficiently rebuilt.

At a sometimes-raucous meeting last Tuesday, held by the DEC at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine & Atmospheric Sciences, hundreds of fishermen and women packed a hall to demand the state bring quotas into line with New Jersey and other states that are allotted larger shares.

They rejected the state’s plan to choose one of seven options to manage the black sea bass fishery under the 12 percent reduction. Instead, they demanded that officials do more to increase the quota — even if it means violating the regulations. The room broke into raucous applause at the prospect.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), in a statement read at the meeting, said, “Going into noncompliance is never the first option, but it may be the only one in taking a stand for New York anglers who year after year continue to get screwed.”

DEC marine resources chief Jim Gilmore warned that noncompliance, if rejected by federal regulators, could lead to a shortened or eliminated season for 2019 if there is overfishing this year.

But some are willing to take that gamble if it means opening this year’s season sooner.

“I think the reward outweighs the risk,” said Joe Tangel, captain of the King Cod fishing boat in Moriches. “We can’t take another cut.”

Even though fishermen rejected the state’s options, Seggos said the feedback from Tuesday’s meeting “helps us understand where the fishermen are and what support we have to ultimately make larger changes.”

Fishermen at the meeting emphasized there was no more room for reduction.

“Please get on top of this situation and get the people of New York on equal footing with the rest of the boats and businesses on the East Coast,” said Huntington fishing boat captain James Schneider. He noted that charter and party boats face a 30 percent reduction in their business, adding, “Our people should not be punished.”

One prevailing concern for the DEC and fishing boat captains is that, under current rules, New Jersey would have a considerably more favorable quota for black sea bass, leaving New York boats at a significant disadvantage.

“Two boats fishing next to each other with one allowed to catch up to double the amount of the other because they are landing the fish in New Jersey instead of New York is ridiculous and inequitable,” Zeldin said.

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