A commercial fisherman sorts fluke on the Long Island Sound.

A commercial fisherman sorts fluke on the Long Island Sound. Credit: Newsday/Mark Harrington

The state Department of Environmental Conservation this week increased the daily commercial limit for fluke to an unprecedented 280 pounds — a fivefold increase that may change in just two weeks’ time.

Daily limits for the highly prized fish, also known as summer flounder, typically range for New York commercial fishermen between 50 pounds and 70 pounds, a sore point for many baymen who must fish several species to make their daily trips worth the fuel and other expenses. It had been 50 pounds a day before jumping to 280 pounds on Sunday. 

The DEC, in response to Newsday questions, explained the increase was partly the result of the state receiving “a significant” fluke quota increase from the coastal fisheries management agency in March.

DEC said the increase was part of a plan “to ensure fish will be available through the fall and winter.”

The increase to 280 pounds will remain in effect until Aug. 1, DEC said, then will “likely drop to 140 pounds unless DEC’s monitoring of landings indicate other changes are needed to prevent the closing of the fishery before the end of the year.”

If not, DEC said, and data indicates fishermen have not met their quota, “DEC may increase the day trip limit.”

The move comes as the state also prepares to close the commercial black sea bass fishery on Friday until Sept. 1 under previously set limits. Black sea bass are widely acknowledged to be plentiful in New York waters, and the state has been working to increase the quota through interstate fisheries agencies in which Southern states largely control the agenda.

New York has sued the federal government to increase the state’s share of the coastal fluke quota above its current 7.6 percent, compared with more than 20 percent each for North Carolina and Virginia. Fluke migrations have changed as waters warm, the state has argued, and more fluke now spend more of the year in the waters in and around New York than many Southern states.

Riverhead fishermen Phil Karlin, who fishes a trawler on the Long Island Sound out of Mattituck, said he’s concerned the sudden increase in the fluke limit could leave fishermen with too little quota to harvest later in the year.

“I’d rather see it go to 140 pounds and make it last through the year,” said the veteran fisherman, adding, “it’s been a long time” since the quota was anything near 280 pounds daily.

Another fisherman said he was wasn’t pleased when he saw the wholesale price drop $2 concurrently with the increased limit, to around $3.50 a pound.

“There are better ways to do this,” said Arthur Kretschmer, a Mattituck trawler fisherman who depends on fluke and black sea bass for his living and said hasn’t seen such an increase for more than a decade. “These people that make the quotas, they have no idea on the money end how this works.”

DEC noted the limits for black sea bass are based on 2002 stock assessments, when the fish were “far less abundant” in the metropolitan area. The prior limit of 50 pounds will be reinstated Sept. 1 and is expected to remain there through year's end.

Twenty years ago, Kretschmer said, “I caught 400-500 pounds of black sea bass a day. Now there are more of the fish than ever and I’m only allowed 50 pounds” before a total shutdown.” He estimated the shutdown will cost him $200 a day.

The black sea bass closure is the result of a previously set catch limit for the fish through July, “a standard action with these fisheries that is undertaken only in close consultation with the industry,” the agency said. It will reopen the fishery in September “to enable continued harvest through the fall to help support the economic viability of industry,” the agency's statement said.

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