Will it really happen this time? That's the question Long Island fluke fans have been mulling over since Sen. Charles Schumer's announcement on Tuesday proposing legislation to level the playing field when it comes to summer flounder quotas.
The proposed bill, named "The Fluke Fairness Act" by the senator, is designed to "finally end the drastically unfair and inequitable treatment of Long Island anglers in the popular and economically important summer flounder fishery."
Currently, flawed, decades-old data is used to set the limits for recreational and commercial fluke allocations along the East Coast on a state-by-state basis. Because of acknowledged flaws in the quota system, however, New York is arbitrarily saddled with a disproportionate burden of the federal plan for fluke recovery. As a result, New Jersey and Connecticut anglers fishing in shared waters like Raritan Bay and the Long Island Sound can creel five fish each with a minimum size limit of 17.5 inches while New York fluke regulations set a 19-inch minimum size limit with a four- fish creel.
"The bottom line is we are fed up," Schumer (D-N.Y.) told me in a phone call on Monday afternoon. "We've tried to work through the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council [MAFMC] and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Council [ASMFC], but New York only has one vote on each so the odds are stacked against us. And we tried to work through NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], but they have not been willing to overrule the councils. So, it's time for legislation."
Tony DiLernia, an at-large member of the MAFMC, believes the time for change is finally at hand. "The senator has been following and acting on this for years," he said, "and he's understandably frustrated, as are many New York fishermen. He's essentially telling the councils to get this fixed or we're going to start amending the laws. We've got the senator giving a big push and Governor Cuomo threatening to have New York State sue over the matter, so the pressure is really on the councils right now."
All that has DiLernia feeling good about future New York fluke prospects. "With all that's going on," he said, "I'm very hopeful and confident we'll go into the 2014 fluke season with uniform regulations and shared bodies of water. I'm proposing three regions: Maryland and south, Delaware to Connecticut, and Rhode Island to Maine. The states in each region would pool their quotas and abide by a single set of fluke regulations covering their entire territory. It will be close, but we might have the votes for this now."
"We better see this fixed," the senator cautioned. "This legislation is sort of a dagger hanging over their heads. But, you know, I have a little bit of clout in the Senate. There are 42 states not affected by this legislation and, if necessary, I'll lobby all of those senators to vote with us."
Stripers, blackfish biting
Nearly as endless as the debate over fluke quotas is the fine run of striped bass still underway along Long Island's South Shore. The linesiders continue to hammer diamond jigs from Shinnecock west to Rockaway Beach. Blackfish are also hitting hot and heavy in 30-foot depths on Long Island Sound. Use green crabs for the bulldogs.