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NY threatens suit over federal limits on black sea bass

New York State will file suit against the federal government if it loses an appeal in opposition to current restrictions on the recreational black sea bass fishery, which for 2018 mandates a 12 percent reduction in fishing, a top state commissioner said Tuesday night.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is holding a meeting Tuesday night to discuss options for the black sea bass season for 2018, and by all indications it will be contentious. Fishing boat captains on Facebook have urged anglers to attend the meeting to protest the 12 percent reduction, which would drastically shorten the season and the number of fish anglers can take. The DEC moved the location to a larger venue to accommodate more people.

“Please get on top of this situation and get the people of New York on equal footing with the rest of the boats and businesses on the East Coast,” Huntington fishing boat captain James Schneider said, noting charter and partyboats face a 30 percent reduction in their business. “Our people should not be punished.”

In an interview Tuesday night in advance of the meeting, Basil Seggos, DEC commissioner, said he’s been directed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to make sure state fishermen don’t suffer as a result of federal regulations that seek to limit a fishery that’s considered healthy.

“Black sea bass populations have increased substantially,” he said. “Nonetheless, we’re stuck with the prospect of cuts, which never made sense to me, never made sense to the governor, or to our fisheries managers.”

New York joined with Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut in filing an appeal on March 16 of the 12 percent quota reduction for black sea bass this year. If the appeal with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is not successful, he said, the state will file an appeal with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries division. “If they are not prepared to rule favorably, then we’d pursue the litigation route,” said Seggos. “We think the science is with us” showing an abundance of black sea bass in the region.

One concern for the DEC and fishing boat captains is that under current rules, some states, including New Jersey, have a considerably more favorable quota for black sea bass, while competing with New York for fishing boat customers. New Jersey anglers can take more and smaller fish during a longer season under current rules.

“The clock is ticking,” said Seggos. “We expect an answer by the end of April, early May.”

At a sometime raucous meeting at Stony Brook University Tuesday, fishermen, and charter and partyboat captains expressed concern that the DEC measures to reach the 12 percent reduction may not be enough, or successful. The several hundred people broke into applause when a proposal was made for noncompliance with the black sea bass regulations.

DEC officials noted there were risks to the move, including overfishing that could weigh heavily against next year’s quota or even shut down the fishery. But most at the meeting favored it anyway, noting that it worked for New Jersey last year.

“I think the reward outweighs the risk,” said Joe Tangel, captain of the King Cod fishing boat in Moriches. “We can’t take another cut.”

Neil Delaney, captain of the Laura Lee in Captree, said going into non-customer compliance “may not be a bad idea. Last year Jersey did it and got away with it.”

Jim Hutchinson, conservation editor for The Fisherman Magazine, spoke for many in the room when he said the seven options proposed by the DEC to comply with the 12 percent reduction “don’t make sense” given that the fishery is rebuilt to more than twice its target.

Taking another cut, he said, would be “ridiculous,” “irresponsible” and “grossly negligent.”

State & Region