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Pols: Feds should assist commercial fishermen

Three Democratic lawmakers want federal fisheries regulators to include New York in any potential disaster declaration for New England groundfish in the face of a reduction of up to 70 percent in commercial fishing quotas next year.

The reductions are expected to include vital fish stocks such as yellowtail flounder and cod, which are important to the livelihoods of New York commercial fishermen who trawl in federal waters.

U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) made the request in a letter Monday to the Department of Commerce, which manages the fisheries, including those in New England.

Marjorie Mooney-Seus, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the agency will "certainly consider this [disaster declaration] request as we are actively considering requests from other states."

In recent months, the New England Fishery Management Council's Groundfish Committee released a preliminary report indicating catch limits for New England groundfish stocks could cut by as much as 70 percent next year, the lawmakers said.

"We've been impacted pretty drastically by all the reductions but this would basically put us out of business," said Montauk commercial fisherman Hank Lackner, who has trawled for groundfish in New England for most of his 25 years on the water.

Next year's expected reductions will not only drastically reduce the amount of fish that can be taken by so-called draggers, whose nets haul bottom fish like flounder, but also force New England fishermen hurt by the rules to make up their losses by traveling to federal waters around New York to target species such as scup that are not limited by state-by-state quotas.

"What they [regulators] are doing in New England is going to push those boats down here," he said.

Lackner's hope: that federal disaster declaration assistance will include a buyback program in which regulators purchase the boats and permits of fishermen impacted by the rules.

The lawmakers in their letter noted many Long Island commercial fishermen were hit hard by a ban on winter flounder enacted in 2009.

"Southern New England winter flounder landings represented 80 percent of all groundfish landings on Long Island in 2008 and constituted a multimillion dollar fishery to Long Island's fishing communities," they wrote. "Further cuts to other groundfish stocks in the multispecies fishery, such as cod and yellowtail flounder, will jeopardize the future of already struggling fishermen and related businesses on Long Island."

Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, said previous disaster declarations for New England groundfish stocks have not always included New York fishermen and women. Local fishermen are already restricted from targeting winter flounder because assessments have shown the species to be depleted locally.

"No one is looking for a handout," Brady said, "but if there is some sort of package, we deserve to be a part of that."

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