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LI lobstermen expected to decry shutdown at meeting

State officials will likely get an earful Tuesday at a meeting with Long Island lobstermen to discuss a potential shutdown of the commercial lobster fishery in Long Island Sound and other southern New England waters.

Dozens of baymen are expected at the meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the state Department of Environmental Conservation's Bureau of Marine Resources at 205 N. Belle Mead Rd. in East Setauket.

"We're expecting them mainly to say that they don't think it's necessary to close the fishery down," said Jim Gilmore, the DEC's bureau chief.

Earlier this year, biologists recommended a five-year moratorium on the harvest of lobsters in southern New England waters, saying it was the best way to ensure enough remained to sustain the population. Many lobstermen here and in other states say a temporary ban would put them out of business.

Lobsters have been on the decline in New England waters in recent years, according to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which manages coastal fisheries in the region. Local baymen were especially hard hit by a 1999 population crash in Long Island Sound. New York commercial fishermen landed 1.1 million pounds of lobster in 2008 - an 88 percent decline compared with the high point in 1996.

Mattituck lobsterman Jim King said he opposed a complete shutdown. Still, he said, the state had been slow to adopt other measures that could have helped sustain the local lobster population, such as increasing the minimum size limit: "I think there are other things we can do - things we should have done for years."

The commission will discuss the proposal at a meeting next week in Rhode Island and is expected to make a decision later this year.

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