Conservation

NY Senator Acts to Help Fluke Fishermen

New York’s senior United States Senator, Charles E. Schumer, asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the manner in which the recreational summer flounder (also called fluke) harvest is allocated among the several states. In particular, Senator Schumer questioned why New York, with its long coastline and high population, receives just a little more than 17 percent of the recreational allocation, while neighboring New Jersey is allotted more than 39 percent, allowing its anglers to fish under regulations less stringent than those governing New York’s fishermen, even though they fish some of the same waters.

“CCA NY thanks Senator Schumer for his actions,” says Brian O’Keefe, Chair of CCA NY’s Government Relations Committee. “For years, CCA NY has been arguing, before the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and before the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (the Council), that the current allocation is wrong. Now that the Senator has taken this action, New York’s anglers might finally get a fair break.”

In its testimony before ASMFC and the Council, CCA NY has repeatedly made the same points that Senator Schumer has now made to the GAO: that the current harvest allocation is based on outdated data, that the flounder were allocated in accordance with an inaccurate harvest survey and that, even if the survey had been accurate, recent changes in the flounder population has rendered the current allocation scheme obsolete.

Both the Senator and CCA NY have noted that the summer flounder caught in New York and New Jersey constitute a single stock, and that it makes no sense, from a biological viewpoint, to have anglers fishing on their side of the border return 20-inch fish, while their counterparts fishing only a few yards away, on the New Jersey side, can keep fish measuring 18 inches.

“This is a very important issue for New York’s salt water anglers,” notes Charles Witek, CCA NY’s Vice Chair. “Summer flounder form the backbone of our inshore recreational fishery, and are the bread-and-butter fish on which both the tackle shops and the party boat fleets depend. New York’s unreasonably small allocation hurts those small businesses, and does particular harm to our party and charter boats, who lose countless customers to their counterparts in New Jersey, who enjoy the benefits of that state’s disproportionately large quota.”

New Jersey’s 39 percent share of the recreational summer flounder harvest is based on anglers’ estimated landings in a single year, 1998. The Marine Recreational Fishing Statistical Survey (MRFSS) used to provide that estimate is so inaccurate that a National Research Council panel commissioned to review MRFSS deemed it “fatally flawed” as a fishery management tool, and the 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson Act mandated that it be replaced with a more effective means of estimating recreational catch. In addition, the distribution of the fish themselves appears to have changed, with the Council’s Summer Flounder Monitoring Committee noting that the stock’s center of abundance has moved north and east of where it was over a decade ago.

“New York anglers are suffering from regulations based on data that is acknowledged by the fisheries scientists themselves as being outdated and inaccurate,” states Bill Raab, President of CCA NY, “And it’s kind of ironic. No one is more critical of MRFSS than the New Jersey angling community, but when the same MRFSS data that they criticize suddenly awards them the lion’s share of the summer flounder, MRFSS suddenly becomes unassailable.”

The Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) has long maintained that all of the states participating in the recreational summer flounder fishery should be fishing under consistent coastwide regulations, and not the current patchwork of state-specific rules that make little biological sense and create an unfortunate mix of “have” and “have not” states.

The full text of Senator Schumer’s press release on the summer flounder allocation, along with his letter to the GAO, can be found at http://schumer.senate.gov/record.cfm?id=335562&.

For more information on CCA, visit joincca.org.

Senator Acts to Help Fluke Fishermen