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New York’s fish tale is no exaggeration

A commercial fisher sorts fluke on the Long

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

Wanna hear a fish story?

Forget the tale of the 50-pound bluefish, or the yarn about the weeklong battle with a great white that got away.

The oldest, most incredible fish story yet told in New York is the one about the federal government’s obscenely unfair quotas on local commercial fluke catches. Those limits, in place for a quarter-century, destroy any notion of fair competition between New York fishers and their peers from other states.

And they have led to absurdities such as this:

Some New York fishers, suffering under the quotas and trying to make a living, have had to buy permits from North Carolina to catch fluke in our own state’s waters. Then they have go down to North Carolina ports to land their catch, which then is often trucked back up to New York for sale.

So we applaud state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos and Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, supported by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, for filing a petition with the federal government demanding that the state quotas be more equitable. It’s a necessary first step toward filing a lawsuit should the feds refuse to make the overdue change, and it could lead to a faster resolution to the problem than waiting for the government to act — or not — on its own. A final determination on the quotas was supposed to be delivered late last year by a federal interstate fisheries commission, but now is more likely to come this fall. Experience invites skepticism on the timeline.

This fish story, like so many others, is defined by its outrageous numbers. New York is allowed 7.6 percent of the total Atlantic Coast fluke catch. But Rhode Island can take 15.7 percent, New Jersey 16.7, Virginia 21.3 and North Carolina 27.4. New York’s numbers are based on flawed and incomplete data from the 1980s that underreported New York’s catch. The percentages have not changed since they were set in 1993. And since then, good science has shown that fluke have migrated north more and more into New York waters.

In parallel action, Sen. Chuck Schumer continues to apply pressure to get the quotas changed while ensuring New York continues to have representation on the fisheries commission. That’s good, too.

The more people working on this, the better. It’s all hands on deck until this whopper finally gets caught.