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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 12, 2009

SCHUMER TO INTRODUCE LEGISLATION ALLOWING MUCH-NEEDED FLEXIBILITY IN FEDERAL FISHING RULES; BILL CRUCIAL TO SAVING LONG ISLAND'S COMMERCIAL AND RECREATIONAL FISHING INDUSTRY


LI's Once Thriving Commercial and Recreational Fishing Industry Has Been Decimated by Arbitrary Quotas and Outdated, Inexact Science Severely Limiting Catch and Allowable Fishing Days - Antiquated Laws Not Based on Best Available Current Science

Schumer's Bill Would Increase Flexibility of Quotas and Allow Science to Determine Regulations - LI's Losing Millions Every Year Because of Excessively Strict Quotas

Schumer: With Flexibility and a More Up-to-Date Science Based System, We Can Rebuild Stocks and Allow LI's Fishing Industry to Survive

Today, United States Senator Charles E. Schumer announced he will introduce legislation in the Senate, authored by Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) in the House, that will bring much-needed science-based modernization and flexibility to the outdated federal rules now stifling Long Island’s once thriving commercial and recreational fishing industry. The  Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, as it is presently written, requires any fishery designated by the Department of Commerce's National Marine Fisheries Service as “overfished” be completely rebuilt within 10 years, a timeline Schumer argued was arbitrary, often too broad, not based on available science, and lacking reasonable exceptions. The ten-year deadline has produced stringent quotas imprecisely limiting Long Island fishermen's catch. The lack of flexibility in the current regime prevents regulators from pursuing a more balance approach that is based on the most up-to-date science that both allows the stocks to rebuild and considers the economic consequences to fishermen and fishing communities. Schumer’s bill would give some much needed flexibility to the ten-year timeline as a way to ease pressure on fishermen and their communities as fisheries continue to rebuild. 

 

“The bottom line is that we need better science and more flexibility in our fishing management regulations. We can rebuild fishing stocks and allow for a more nuanced approach to regulations that is not overly onerous on our fishing communities," said Schumer. "Keeping our fishing stocks healthy is absolutely critical, but  -- because it is based on outdated science -- the current system not only falls short of achieving this goal, but it’s taking Long Island fishing community down with it,” Schumer said.  “Our legislation provides some much needed balance and flexibility within the existing system to both preserve our fishing stocks and allow fisheries to thrive and grow.”

 

Schumer cited the decline in the popular Long Island fish, summer flounder or “fluke”, as an example of how these onerous regulations hit home in Nassau and Suffolk counties.  Comparing 2006 to 2009, New York suffered a 13% decline in fluke quota, shrinking from 935,943 lbs in 2006 to 821,019 lbs in 2009.  Along the Mid-Atlantic Coast, the numbers are similar. 

 

The chart below highlights the massive decline in quotas in just three years, from 2006 to 2009, according to the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council.

 

Commercial

 

Species

2009 Quota (lbs)

2006 Quota (lbs)

Percentage Decline

Fluke

10.74 million

14.15 million

- 24%

Scup

8.37 million

12.08 million

- 31%

Black sea bass

1.09 million

3.92 million

- 72%

Bluefish

4.99 million

8.081 million

- 38%

 

 

Recreational

 

Species

2009 Quota (total # of fish)

2006 Quota (total # of fish)

Percentage Decline

Fluke

365,000 (approx)

650,000 (approx)

-44%

 

Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Management Act – reauthorized by Congress in 2006 -- when a fishery is identified as overfished, a Regional Fishery Management Council has two years to implement a plan to end overfishing, and, with limited exceptions, to rebuild the stock within 10 years.  The ten-year rebuilding requirement has three exceptions, based on the biology of the fish, environmental conditions, or an agreement between the U.S. and other nations.  Other than those three situations, all overfished fisheries must achieve rebuilt status within 10 years.  The problem is the ten-year deadline is arbitrary, may have no basis in science, may require stocks to be rebuilt to unprecedented levels, and must be met without regard to the impact it will have on recreational and commercial fishermen, related industries, and the communities.

 

"It has become clear that the current law can sometimes impose unduly strict timelines for rebuilding depleted fisheries and this legislation provides a measure of flexibility in the rebuilding periods in order to keep fishing communities economically viable, without compromising the ultimate rebuilding goal," said Schumer, who noted that the legislation gives the Commerce Secretary a degree of discretion when certain specific conditions are met.

 

"We applaud Senator Schumer for his continued concern for and support of the working fishing families of Long Island," said Bonnie Brady, Executive Director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association. "To a fishing community, a ten-year timeline may mean a foreclosed home, no money for a child’s education, a family on the brink, and a broken future. When stocks are clearly in recovery, no one’s life should be marginalized or destroyed because of a fervent desire to do it all in ten years and not one second more, when a little more time could be allotted to achieve the ultimate goal, say in 12 or 14 years, and thereby allow everyone to keep the jobs, their lives, and their dignity, even while the stocks rebuild."

 

Capt. Dennis Kanyuk, President of United Boatmen of New York, echoed Ms. Brady’s sentiments on behalf of the party and charter boat industry, and added, “Senator Schumer recognizes the lack of science behind this inflexible ten year deadline.  Fluke are now estimated to be 75% rebuilt and are on a strong trend toward total rebuilt status, yet because of the way the law is currently written, regulators continue to mindlessly reduce quotas every year in an effort to meet this arbitrary deadline, with no concern about how our industry is literally being strangled out of existence.  This approach has devastated our industry, with revenue losses exceeding 60% industry wide over the last five years and greater losses expected this year.  We all hope that Congress acts swiftly to pass this bill, while there is still an industry left to save.” 

 

Philip Curcio, spokesman for the New York Chapter of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, expressed gratitude to the Senator, stating; “Senator Schumer has been a long-time friend and champion of Long Island fishermen, and we are very hopeful that his bill will be a ray of new hope for the embattled Long Island fishing community.”   

 

Schumer said that this year, New York commercial interests will suffer a 14.8 percent loss in groundfishing revenues from $4.0 million to $3.4 million. The commercial fishing catch landed at Shinnecock fell by half between 2000 and 2006 - from 13.7 million pounds to 6.1 million, according to federal statistics. It's down by nearly two-thirds from a 1995 high of 17.8 million pounds. Montauk landings are down 10 to 15 percent from the late 1990s, and commercial ground-fishing permits for New York fishermen have dropped from a high of nearly 400 in 1992 to just over 100 last year.  The chart below shows the aggregate decline in commercial landings for New York from 1996 to 2007, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

 

Year

Pounds

Dollar Value ($)

1996

60,448,310

84,975,600

1997

60,050,399

88,044,140

1998

56,502,690

81,830,374

1999

49,491,223

74,789,549

2000

44,750,587

61,196,593

2001

42,459,104

55,185,399

2002

38,595,412

51,344,973

2003

39,431,047

51,651,606

2004

34,522,624

46,885,000

2005

38,193,295

56,418,730

2006

32,666,599

57,727,563

2007

35,609,671

59,618,580

 

 

The Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act of 2009 will provide the U.S. Secretary of Commerce authority to allow limited flexibility in the rebuilding mandates, but only if one of the following conditions apply:

 

 

·         The biology of the stock of fish, other environmental conditions, or management measures under an international agreement, in which the United States participates dictates otherwise.

 

·         The Secretary determines that the 10-year period should be extended because the cause of the fishery decline is outside the jurisdiction of the Council or the rebuilding program cannot be effective only by limiting fishing activities.

 

·         The Secretary determines an extension would provide for the sustained participation of fishing communities or would minimize the economic impacts on such communities, provided that there is evidence that the stock of fish is on a positive rebuilding trend.

 

·         The Secretary determines that the 10-year period should be extended for one or more stocks of fish of a multi-species fishery, provided that there is evidence that those stocks are on a positive rebuilding trend.

 

·         The Secretary determines an expansion is necessary because of a substantial change to the biomass rebuilding target for the stock of fish concerned after the rebuilding plan has taken effect.

 

·         The Secretary determines an expansion is necessary because the biomass rebuilding target exceeds the highest abundance of the stock of fish in the 25 year period preceding and there is evidence that the stock is on a positive rebuilding trend.

 

Schumer also said that the legislation will also add additional criteria to the biomass stock assessment mandated in the Magnuson Stevens Act to include commercial, residential and industrial development, as well as agricultural activity in coastal areas and its impact on the marine environment.  It also calls for the assessment of the relationship between predator and prey and other environmental and ecological changes to the marine conditions in the stock assessment.

 

Earlier this year, Schumer introduced legislation that would amend the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to add New York to the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC). A seat on the NEFMC would provide New York fishermen a necessary voice in decisions that directly affect the rules and regulations governing several important New York fisheries, including cod and winter flounder.

 

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