Federal rules and fisheries management have left New York fishermen with dwindling shares of fish stocks and must be changed before a vital Long Island industry fades away, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said at a roundtable in Montauk Sunday.
"The rules are unfair to New York" fishermen, said Gillibrand, who is on the November ballot. "The numbers need to be rectified. We need our fair share of the stock."
Twenty people representing commercial groundfish trawlers, lobster boats, charter captains and local lawmakers briefed the upstate senator on what they said were injustices largely ignored by lawmakers.
"We get no support from our congressional delegation," said Montauk charter captain Joe McBride. "There has to be a change."
Gillibrand joins a long line of lawmakers who have vowed to fight for fishing interests.
Conservationists and regulators say the rules are needed to rebuild species historically depleted by overfishing and other factors. Sen. Charles Schumer has sponsored legislation aimed at lengthening timetables for rebuilding fish stocks to reduce harm to local economies. Gillibrand said she will work to advance the measure.
Commercial fish landings at the Shinnecock commercial dock in Hampton Bays fell to 6.1 million pounds in 2006 from 17.5 million in 1995, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. Montauk landings were down 10 to 15 percent from the late 1990s, and commercial ground-fishing permits for New York have dropped from a high of nearly 400 in 1992 to just above 100 in 2008.
Fishermen said restrictions have hit New York harder than regions such as New England or the mid-Atlantic, which have higher shares of species, some of which thrive in federal waters off Long Island. Lobsterman Al Schaffer took aim at a five-year moratorium on catching lobsters in southern New England, including all the waters around Long Island. Two days after the plan was tabled, Schaffer said he and his son Nolan caught nearly 800 pounds of lobsters in waters reported to be depleted.
Most of the focus was on New York's relatively low quota on staple species.
"I'm fishing next to boats from all the other states, and they can take ten times the amount of fluke that I can," said Montauk commercial fisherman Chuck Weimar. Gillibrand said she'd create a state working group to reverse the low allotment and press the case with the U.S. Commerce Department and the New York Attorney General's office, which has already filed suit on the issue for recreational groups.
Sports fishermen complained about restrictive size limits on fish that they said damage species meant to be protected, because many undersize fish are thrown back in the water dead.
"If the fish die, there's no purpose in it," Gillibrand said, asking the group to compile data on the trend to make a case before regulators.
East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkenson asked Gillibrand to work to alter rules that have worked against decades of fishermen.
"I don't think we can punish this group any longer with the sins of their fathers," he said. "This community wants its share of fish."