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North Fork fishing community: Keep black sea bass season open

Riverhead fisherman Phil Karlin, center in white, discusses

Riverhead fisherman Phil Karlin, center in white, discusses the hardship of the June closure of the black sea bass season with Norman Stiansen of Hampton Bays in Mattituck on Thursday, May 26, 2016. Credit: Newsday / Mark Harrington

A dwindling North Fork fishing community, faced with the closure of the abundant black sea bass fishery starting Wednesday, is urging state regulators to enact emergency measures to keep it open.

About a dozen of them met at a Mattituck marina Thursday to vent their frustration at the measure, which one fisherman said would reduce his income by 80 percent. Meanwhile, the state’s top fishing regulator wrote a letter to federal fisheries managers urging them to expedite an assessment to improve the data upon which local quotas are based.

Fishermen and women noted that June is the most productive month for black sea bass, which even regulators admit are teeming in local waters. With limits on other fish at low levels, fishermen say they have little to turn to to make up the losses.

“May and June is when I make the bulk of my money,” said Nate Andruski of Southold, saying black sea bass compose about 80 percent of his income. He expects to sit out the month of June. “I don’t have any other permits,” he added.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation isn’t issuing new permits for available fish such as striped bass or fluke. And those who can fish for fluke can only take a daily limit of 70 pounds. Scup, also known as porgies, are the other primary alternative, with a daily limit of 800 pounds.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Norman Stiansen, who lives in Hampton Bays and fishes from Shinnecock and the Long Island Sound. “You can tow [a net] for 10 minutes and get 50 pounds . . . June is the biggest month for black sea bass.”

The group of about a dozen men and two women was joined by Southampton attorney Daniel Rodgers, who plans to write to state officials, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, to ask that June be reopened and that the current 50-pound daily quota be converted to a weekly limit of 350 pounds, which fishermen would be allowed to catch in a single day or several days.

“This regulatory closure in the month of June will prove to be an extreme hardship to the many hardworking fishermen and women who rely on the black sea bass to support their families,” Rodgers wrote.

State regulators are pushing federal regulators to fix the problem. In a May 17 letter to top federal fishing regulators, Basil Seggos, acting DEC commissioner, noted the fishery has been rebuilt since 2009, yet fishermen “continue to struggle under low catch limits and restrictive measures while black sea bass appear to be more abundant than in any time in recent history.”

Among other things, he asked for “sensible and fair” regulations to be applied across the region and urged U.S. regulators to expedite a new stock assessment, modify current management actions and implement “equitable” regulations.

Local fishermen say it’s not just the closure that’s the problem.

Rob Spitzenberg, a Southold fisherman, said loading his tanks with fuel to make the daily haul of 50 pounds of sea bass — the listed quota for the year when fishing is allowed — is barely worth the expense. “That’s not conservation,” he said, referring to the fish and the fuel.

Spitzenberg wants the DEC to allow a weekly quota for black sea bass, so that when the season reopens in July, fishermen can catch the seven-day quota in a day or two, and move on to other work.

A senior DEC official said the June closure and the 50-pound limit were decisions some local fishermen chose when presented with lower federal quotas last year.

“We understand their frustration,” he said. “There’s not enough quota to let these guys make a living. We’re trying to make the best of a bad situation.”

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