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Editorial: Raise New York's quota for summer flounder

Dr. Bayman Anthony Sougstad unloads live fluke after

Dr. Bayman Anthony Sougstad unloads live fluke after a day of fishing aboard his workboat, the Finchaser. Credit: Charles Eckert, 2011

The Long Island fishing industry and our elected representatives long have complained about federal quotas on local fluke catches. Now they're ratcheting up the pressure to change those limits. The federal legislation that led to using quotas to rebuild stocks of overfished species expires later this year and requires reauthorization. That presents another opportunity to change the way we manage our fisheries in general -- and fluke, or summer flounder, in particular.

The current system, which puts New York's fishing industry at a severe disadvantage compared with its counterparts from other states, is based on flawed and incomplete data from the 1980s that resulted in underreporting the number of fish caught by state anglers. The quotas reflected those lowball numbers. New York's commercial fleet, for example, is allowed 7.6 percent of the total Atlantic coast fluke catch, compared with 15.7 percent for Rhode Island, 16.7 for New Jersey, 21.3 for Virginia and 27.4 for North Carolina. Recreational limits are not much better -- 17.6 percent for New York, 39 percent for New Jersey.

The economic loss is considerable. Higher quotas mean more fish in local stores and on local menus, lower prices for those fish, more money in the pockets of fishers, more revenue for bait and tackle shops, more jobs, etc. In 2011, the disparity in quotas meant New York communities lost $9.3 million in economic activity compared with New Jersey and $12 million compared with Rhode Island.

Sen. Charles Schumer and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo are pushing hard for a change. Part of their case: Studies show the fluke stock is rebuilt, and new migratory patterns northward mean more fluke in New York waters than ever, leaving North Carolina and Virginia unable to harvest their allocation in recent years.

Fairness, common sense and current data demand new quotas. It's time to give Long Island's fishing industry the break it has long deserved.

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