Threatened restrictions on the commercial harvest of bluefish in New York State have been abandoned after lawmakers urged federal regulators to take action to salvage the 2016 season.
In an order this week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determined bluefish are “not overfished or experiencing overfishing.” The order allows for more than 1.5 million pounds of quota to be shifted among states and the commercial sector, allowing New York’s harvest to reach the previous year’s levels of about 500,000 pounds.
The move salvages a commercial fishing season that state officials said would have been “devastated” by a closure.
Last month, NOAA had threatened to close New York’s commercial fishery for bluefish after the annual harvest of 360,000 pounds was reached.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Selden) and state Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos urged federal officials to re-evaluate the data and permit the transfer of excess quota from the recreational sector, and other states.
“The elimination in midseason of quota from the commercial fishery in 2016 is shocking and would deal a devastating blow to our commercial fisheries,” Seggos said in a letter to federal regulators.
“With the quota transfer, our Long Island fishing boats — who were facing a harsh and premature closing of the fishery — can keep earning, employing others and harvesting their catch,” Schumer said in a statement. “The feds did the right thing by heeding the call and supporting an industry that has deep history on Long Island.”
NOAA’s order will allow for 1.57 million pounds of bluefish quota to be transferred from other states and the recreational sector coastwide, easing New York’s commercial quota of 360,000 pounds this year.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, in a statement, said, “I commend the federal government for abandoning it’s ill-conceived plan that would have dealt a devastating blow to this vital industry.”
He said lawmakers “will continue to fight for equitable policies that do not put these hardworking New Yorkers at a competitive disadvantage.”
Fishing interests, lawmakers and the DEC have long criticized the data used by federal regulators to set quotas for bluefish and other species, saying it is unreliable and out of date.
“It looks like our advocacy paid off, and they took a second look at the data which we called out for being outdated and wrong,” Zeldin spokeswoman Jennifer DiSiena said in an email.
“NOAA has clearly stated here, based on their new assessment with better data, that ‘bluefish are neither experiencing overfishing nor considered overfished,’” DiSiena said, quoting from the NOAA order. “This establishes the catch limits for 2016-2018 so it will give local fishermen, commercial and recreational, some certainty going forward and keep NOAA from attempting to do last minute misguided closures.”