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Schumer pledges to use clout to pass 'Fluke Fairness Act'

Senator Chuck Schumer speaks at Long Beach City

Senator Chuck Schumer speaks at Long Beach City Hall. (Oct. 26, 2013) Credit: Barry Sloan

Sen. Charles Schumer Monday fired another salvo in the battle against New York's disproportionately small share of the federal fluke fishery with proposed legislation that he said would "end the unfairness."

Surrounded by boat captains and advocates at the Captree State Park fishing dock, Schumer vowed to push a bill through Congress that would do away with what he said was the faulty data and uneven quota system on which New York's small share is based. And he said he would use his connections and clout in Congress to see to it.

"I've got a lot of friends in the Senate, I've got a lot of clout in the Senate," he said. "I will use it."

The so-called Fluke Fairness Act would require that federal fisheries managers use up-to-date research and data to set quotas, which now limit New York's share of the commercial fishery to 7.6 percent of the federal allotment. States such as North Carolina and Virginia get more than 20 percent. Out-of-state boats fishing in New York-area waters can sometimes take thousands of pounds of fluke, but must steam to home ports to unload their catch.

Regulators recently shut down the commercial fluke fishery in New York because this year's quota was met. Other states that haven't met their larger quota fish through the fall.

"This has been an incredible injustice," said Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, which supports Schumer's proposal.

Same for recreational fishing, Schumer said, where New York anglers' 17 percent quota means they can keep fewer fish than even neighboring states such as Connecticut and New Jersey, whose boats frequently travel into New York waters. New Jersey anglers fishing in season can keep five fluke of 17.5 inches compared with New York's four fish at 19 inches.

A regional approach Schumer and others have pushed would make the three states' recreational quota the same. Fishing boat captains say it's badly needed.

"We've always taken the blunt end of the rules," said George Bartenback, owner of the Captain Rod party boat moored in Captree. "If people could go home with a couple more fish, it's a big help."

Schumer and industry advocates have pushed hard at the federal level to change the rules within the existing federal fishing regulators. But fishing councils that dictate the rules have resisted, he said, because they are largely controlled by states that have no interest in change.

Rep. Tim Bishop is considering introducing companion legislation in the House, spokesman Oliver Longwell said. At the same time, he said, Bishop will explore the feasibility of incorporating the measures in a bill to reauthorize the Manguson Stevens Fisheries Act, which set the original restrictions.The current rules not only frustrate recreational fishing captains and their patrons, but they also are bad for the fish stock, fishermen say.

Jim Hutchinson, managing director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, an advocacy group, said the rules force anglers to target the largest fish, often breeding females. Even worse, he said, the undersized fish thrown back have a 10 percent mortality rate -- about one in 10 that are tossed back die.

Emerson Hasbrouck, a senior educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension's Marine Program, said New York's more restrictive quota isn't about preserving a depleted fish stock.

"Summer flounder is fully restored, it's not overfished," he said using another name for fluke. The restrictions are in place, he said, because other states that have a larger percentage of the quota don't want to give it up -- even though some don't fully fish their allotment.

Hasbrouck said New York's low allotment is doubly unfair because the coastal fluke population is shifting -- to New York waters. "The population center has shifted northward," drawing boats from as far south as the Carolinas, yet, "New York fishermen are allowed the least fish."

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