Barely two weeks after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo threatened legal action to correct federal inequities in New York fishing quotas for fluke, the state has been forced to close down the commercial fishery, citing a maxed-out quota.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation, which manages the state fishery, issued a notice Oct. 1 announcing the closure. By mid-September, the DEC said, 94 percent of the state's annual quota of 845,605 pounds had been harvested, and the limit was expected to be reached by September's end.
The closure means commercial boats cannot harvest fluke from state waters through the end of the year, and that New York boats harvesting fish in federal waters can no longer return to New York docks to sell them.
Commercial fisherman Chuck Weimar, who fishes for fluke in state and federal waters, said the October closure is among the earliest he can remember for the fluke fishery. He said it will require him to spend thousands of dollars more in fuel to land his federal quota of fluke in New Jersey -- even though much of the catch ultimately will be trucked back to New York for sale.
"It doesn't make sense. We have our own docks but New York boats can't supply New York markets while fishing in New York markets," said Weimar, who is based in Montauk.
He applauded efforts by Cuomo, the DEC, state lawmakers and the state attorney general to push for changes in the law that penalize New York fishing interests because of quotas based on outdated landing data from the 1980s. Cuomo and Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman urged regulators to fix the problem or they'd pursue administrative or legal challenges to "ensure that New York's recreational and commercial fishermen get a fair deal."
Matt Wing, a spokesman for Cuomo, said the early closure is "exactly why the governor has written to the acting [U.S.] secretary of commerce asking him to re-examine the fishery management plan for fluke so that it does not rely on outdated data."
"The strict quota limit the state has to follow because of the outdated federal formula is proof positive that New York is at a disadvantage to neighboring states and our fisherman are paying the cost by having the season cut short," Wing said. "
Closure of the commercial fishery follows the previously scheduled Sept. 29 closure of the recreational fluke fishery for party, charter boats and others who fish for pleasure. That market has been constrained by tight limits too, though the state was able to ease restrictions this year after convincing other states that had not reached their quotas to allocate some to New York.Weimar said the best solution is to remove state-by-state management of fluke, to put New York on par with other coastal states. Two of them -- North Carolina and Virginia -- are allocated about 50 percent of the federal quota.
"We need flexible landing limits and a coast wide quota," Weimar said.