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Senate hearings to focus on fishing rules

Fishermen Ron Burdewick, left, and Pete DeVita, right,

Fishermen Ron Burdewick, left, and Pete DeVita, right, of Freeport shake the hand of Senator Charles Schumer after he finished a news conference to announce an oversight hearing on fishing regulations that have been controvesial in Long Island waters. (June 4, 2012) Credit: Steve Pfost

The U.S. Senate will hold hearings in the fall to consider changes in the rules governing federal fishing grounds at the urging of Sen. Charles Schumer, who Monday promised local fishermen a say in the way a long-criticized law is reauthorized next year.

At the Freeport Boatman's Association, Schumer told more than two dozen recreational and commercial fishermen he would make sure a representative from the Long Island fishing industry testified before the Senate as part of the oversight hearings.

"What the fishermen here have been telling me for many years is that the law is inflexible, based on questionable science, and doesn't take into account the economic implications of severe quota limits of existing fish stock," Schumer said.

Julie Hasquet, a spokeswoman for Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), chairman of the senate fisheries subcommittee, confirmed hearings will take place at Schumer's request, but added, "The time and scope of the hearings has not been decided."

Schumer is co-sponsor of a bill that would extend the 10-year timeline mandated for rebuilding fish stocks under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which expires next year. Advocates say it is working, and point to rebuilt fishing stocks as evidence. But even some scientists question its impact.

Emerson Hasbrouck, marine program director for the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Riverhead, said the law doesn't take into account realities at sea. "Fish react based on their biology and life history, not timelines imposed" by U.S. regulators, he said at the Schumer briefing, adding that overfishing is "not occurring." Meanwhile, he said, "We see people and boats leaving [the fishery] all the time."

Schumer said the hearings will address what some fishermen said was the more fundamental problem of New York's relatively small portion of federal fishing quotas. Commercial fishermen in North Carolina, for instance, can take 27.4 percent of the federal quota for fluke -- even in waters off New York -- while New York fishermen can keep only around 7 percent. "We get treated the least fairly," Schumer said.

Fish that can't be kept, called bycatch, often goes overboard dead.

Anthony Joseph, a commercial fisherman from Levittown whose home was raided by federal agents earlier this year, said regulators have waged a war of attrition on fishermen, and he'd like to see it reversed by better regulations.

"They keep taking a little bit at a time," he said. "There's just so much to fight for you don't know where to begin."

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