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State DEC officials agree to meeting over LI fishing permits

Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) brokered a planned

Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) brokered a planned meeting between the state DEC and Long Island fishing interests over complaints about restricted fishing permits. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has agreed to meet with Long Island fishing interests over long-held complaints about access to restricted commercial fishing permits following a move by local legislators seeking quicker action on state fishing rules.

The meeting, brokered by Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), is expected to address the complexities of acquiring, transferring and even passing to family members permits to fish for vital local fish such as striped bass and fluke. It may also address so-called latent permits, in which a large percentage of existing permits are held but not used. Fishermen also have complained of long-standing moratoriums on certain species of fish.

Thiele, who worked with Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket), chair of the environmental conservation committee, and state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), on Monday said the meeting will be about “access to the fishery” in general and the difficulty in getting permits.

“The idea here is to have hard-and-fast changes in the way this regulatory process works for permits and licenses,” he said. “You have to find a balance between conservation and promoting the industry. We need to do away with things that arbitrarily cause difficulty and don’t promote conservation.”

DEC spokesman Sean Mahar confirmed the agency “is working with Thiele to host a meeting with commercial fishing representatives to discuss our ongoing fisheries management in the state.”

The legislature this summer won a concession from the DEC to limit to one year the current fishing license and permitting structure. The DEC had sought to extend current rules through 2020, Thiele said.

After the meeting with fishing interests this fall, the plan is to “reach consensus on changes to licensing and permit procedures” to be included in new legislation that would take effect by the end of 2018, Thiele said.

The planned meeting follows one this winter with more than three dozen local fishermen and attorney Daniel Rodgers of Southampton, who heads the pro-fishing group New York Fish, exploring the prospect of suing the state to change the rules governing new permits.

In December, Rodgers sent a “notice of intent” to file a class-action suit against the DEC, taking aim at state restrictions on new commercial striped bass fishing permits. The letter notes that only those who held striped-bass permits in eight select years between 1984 and 1995 are eligible for new permits, a rule that “completely excludes all other fishermen, particularly younger fishermen.”

“Since 1995 this rule has created a ‘moratorium’ on any new entrants into this valuable fishery while creating a ‘protected class’ that has financially benefited from an unconstitutional state regulatory scheme,” Rodgers wrote.

Told of the planned meeting in the fall, Rodgers said a lawsuit is still planned.

“I’m skeptical they are actually going to do anything,” he said of the DEC.

“I want them to manage the fishery,” Rogers said. “That means make sure permits go to people who actually use them rather than people who sit on them. What we’re looking for is regulatory reform.”

The legislature also passed legislation, authored by Thiele and LaValle, that establishes a seafood marketing task force to “promote the marketing and sustainability” of local seafood. It awaits Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s signature.

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