Regulating fisheries isn’t easy. Commercial fishers need to make a living, but species must be protected from overfishing or everyone loses. Quotas and seasons are needed, but regulators must be flexible enough to adjust to unforeseen circumstances.
Those principles are in play now with black sea bass. Cold weather delayed their migration from Maine, so New York’s commercial fishers, most of them Long Islanders, caught only part of their quota in the period ending May 31. June is off-limits, part of a plan fishers helped craft to give equal access to those who fish in different seasons. The state Department of Environmental Conservation wisely agreed to reopen the season this month if final May data show unused quotas. The DEC also was smart to take the unusual step of letting pairs of fishers catch their daily allotment from the same boat, reducing costs of fuel.
The larger problem, as with other species, is the overall quota itself and New York’s share. Federal data on black sea bass are poor and old; by all accounts, the population is more abundant than it has been in years. And New York still receives an unfair state allotment; New York’s commercial fishers get 7 percent of the black sea bass catch while states such as New Jersey and Rhode Island can land two to three times as much. DEC Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer are right to insist that federal officials promptly do a new stock assessment that more accurately reflects the number of black sea bass and that New York be allowed to catch its fair share.
Limits on commercial fishing are needed, and fishers must respect them. But those limits must be sound and fair. It’s time to land a solution that works for everyone. — The editorial board