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East End anglers urge state to sue Feds over fishing limits

Commercial fluke fisherman sorting fluke on the Long

Commercial fluke fisherman sorting fluke on the Long Island Sound on Aug. 30, 2017. Credit: Newsday / Mark Harrington

Several dozen fishermen, women and lawmakers last week urged Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to make good on a promise to sue the federal government over New York’s disproportionately low share of the fluke fishery.

At a meeting at East Hampton Town Hall last Wednesday, the gathering of fishing interests sought to unify their agenda before a meeting with top state officials scheduled for next month.

The commercial fishery for fluke was shut down in September for the first time in recent memory. It reopened Oct. 1 with a 50-pound daily limit. New York gets 7.6 percent of the commercial fluke quota, while North Carolina and Virginia get more than 20 percent each.

Chuck Morici, a Montauk commercial fisherman, used an empty fish basket to demonstrate the inequities. New York’s current daily quota fills the basket by about a third, he said, while boats from Virginia can take 153 baskets — about 10,000 pounds.

“I’m begging for help,” he said, noting Cuomo “shook my hand that day. It’s time for him to make good.”

He was referring to Cuomo’s appearance at a meeting in Montauk in September 2013 when he called New York’s paltry share of the federal fluke quota “clearly not fair and it’s costing millions and millions of dollars.”

Cuomo’s office referred questions to the Department of Environmental Conservation, which said the state “remains concerned with the continued mismanagement of the region’s fisheries by federal agencies, and is actively working to secure all regulatory [remedies] and will pursue all necessary legal options to ensure New York’s fishing industry is not placed at a competitive disadvantage to other states.”

Fishing groups say they will also push the state to remove limits on their ability to transfer tightly restricted fishing licenses, and start programs to allow more young people to enter an industry beset by bureaucracy and attrition. But the group said the fundamental problem rested with the unfair fluke quota, which stems from a vast undercount for New York landings when federal regulators were drawing up quotas in the 1980s.

“It’s time the state steps up and sues” to make the coastal quota for fluke more fair, said commercial fisherman Hank Lackner, who operates a large commercial trawler from Montauk. He said he has two sons who fish with him on his boat, but they face impossible odds of getting their own permits. “There’s no room for new people right now until the state gets us more quota,” he said.

The meeting at East Hampton Town Hall was chaired by Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), along with East Hampton Supervisor Larry Cantwell and aides to state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). The lawmakers reached an agreement with state Department of Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos to meet Nov. 9 as part of a short-term pact to keep in place the current fishing licensing structure.

“There’s unanimity on the lawsuit,” Thiele said after the meeting. “The governor has expressed support for it in the past. We have to make it a priority.”

Daniel Rodgers, a Southampton attorney and director of advocacy group New York Fish, called the current system “not only illegal, it’s unconstitutional,” and fishermen have pondered suing the state to make good on its promise to sue. “It will be addressed,” he said. “It’s only a matter of how.”

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