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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 11, 2012

SCHUMER CALLS FOR FEDERAL INVESTIGATION INTO FLUKE REGULATIONS THAT UNFAIRLY PUNISH LONG ISLAND ANGLERS



Outdated, Inaccurate Fluke Allocation Limits— Developed Over 14 Years Ago—Impose Unreasonable Restrictions On LI Anglers; Unfair Rules Allow Anglers In Other States, Like New Jersey, More Freedom to Fish

States That Benefit from Unfair Rules Are Strangling Rules Reform; Schumer Urges Government Accountability Office to Cut Through Bureaucratic Holdup and Make Much-Needed Reforms to the System

Schumer: It’s High Time We Reformed Outdated and Unfair Rules That Unjustly Hamstring Long Island Anglers

 

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today called on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate antiquated federal rules that determine state-by-state summer flounder (fluke) allocations on the East Coast.  NOAA, in conjunction with the federal fishing regulatory bodies known as the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (MAFMC), use flawed data from one fishing season fourteen years ago to set the baseline for fluke limits on the East Coast.  Schumer said that the current system does not reflect or consider recent significant changes in the fluke population and fishing patterns. Furthermore, because of flaws in the state-by-state quota system, New York is arbitrarily saddled with a disproportionate burden of the federal plan for the fluke's recovery.  In a letter to Government Accountability Office (GAO), Schumer called for an investigation into the allocation system that permits glaring inequities in fluke quota and recommendations for much needed reforms in order to ensure that Long Island anglers don’t continue to suffer from arbitrary and unfair fishing rules.

 

“For the last fourteen years, Long Island anglers have been unfairly punished by inaccurate, unfair regulations that limit their ability to fish while allowing fisherman in other states, like New Jersey, far more freedom to do so,” said Schumer. “Despite multiple attempts to pressure NOAA to change their allocation formula, Long Island anglers continue to be treated unfairly. Today, I’m urging the GAO to launch an independent investigation into the allocation formula to independently confirm the problem and help usher in changes that treat Long Island anglers fairly.”

 

Fluke is the most popular recreational fish in New York’s marine district, which includes over 200,000 anglers and a significant charter and commercial fishing industry.  According to New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, the Council and Commission use flawed data from one fishing season in 1998 to set the baseline for fluke limits without considering recent significant changes in the fluke population and fishing patterns. New York receives only a tiny fraction of this potential recreational catch: approximately 17% compared to 39% for recreational fishermen in New Jersey. Furthermore, because of flaws in the state-by-state quota system, New York is arbitrarily saddled with a disproportionate burden of the federal plan for the fluke's recovery.  For example, in 2008 an angler on the New York side of Raritan Bay could land four fluke per day with each fish measuring at least 20.5 inches long while someone on the New Jersey side of the bay could land eight fluke at only 18 inches long.

 

New York has been stymied in its attempts to make changes to summer flounder management for several years. At the ASMFC Board and MAFMC, which jointly manage the fishery, states with higher allotments from the unequal distribution of the recreational quota, based upon survey data from fourteen years ago, have held the voting majority on the Council/Commission and have been reluctant to make changes since it would result in a reduction of their quotas.  For years, Schumer has urged NOAA and the federal Councils to take the lead role in reforming this flawed system that hurts New York.  Schumer hosted NOAA’s Administrator for fisheries at a meeting with DEC and local officials in Long Island last July and has written to NOAA about this issue. Schumer said today that a failure to enact reforms prompted him to call for a federal investigation.

 

Schumer argued that it defies logic that this system continues to perpetuate itself in the form of lower quotas and a loss of business in New York State simply because there is a lack of political will to fix this system at the Council and Commission level.  In order to correct this glaring inequity – one that gives New Jersey more than double the allocation than New York – Schumer today called for a GAO investigation into the matter to help force NOAA to take administrative action to reform the system to ensure that Long Island anglers get the fish allotments they are entitled to. While Schumer has pushed for administrative action to immediately force compliance with the Magnuson-Stevens Act mandate, requiring the best science available be used to determine quotas, delays and unresponsiveness on the part of NOAA demand the GAO begin its own investigation.

 

Schumer noted the testimony of one charter boat captain and small business owner from Long Island at a recent NOAA meeting.  A popular figure for years at the Captree port, this constituent announced at the meeting that after many years in the fishing business, he had to sell his business in large part because of restrictive fluke regulations and a loss of business to New Jersey.  As the fluke population rebounds in New York, Schumer argued that it was unjust that the story of this Captree fisherman continues to play out, year after year across Nassau and Suffolk, with no end in sight, and that NOAA needed to act immediately to prevent more businesses from going out of business.  

 

Dear Comptroller General Dodaro,

 

In light of a recent meeting with a group of summer flounder experts I convened on Long Island, New York and years of inaction on the part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), I respectfully request that you investigate the federal management system that allows the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (MAFMC) to implement scientifically flawed and economically unfair state-by-state summer flounder allocations on the East Coast.  As you may know, the current summer flounder management method, implemented over a decade ago, has unfairly affected New York’s commercial and recreational fisheries and is not based on the best science and statistical data available.

 

Due to deeply ingrained economic and political forces within the federally-created fishery regulatory bodies, New York has been stymied in its attempts to make changes to summer flounder management for several years.  Fluke, as it is known in New York, is the most popular recreational fish in New York’s marine district, which includes over 200,000 anglers and a significant charter and commercial fishing industry.  At the ASMFC Board and MAFMC, which jointly manage the fishery, states with higher allotments from the unequal distribution of the recreational quota, based upon survey data from fifteen years ago, have held the voting majority on the Council/Commission and have been reluctant to make changes since it would result in a reduction of their quotas.  The original decisions that determined quota levels were based upon recreational survey data from the late 1990’s that many believe has changed significantly over the last decade and was never accurate in the first place.  New York receives only a tiny fraction of this potential recreational catch: approximately 17% compared to 39% for recreational fishermen in New Jersey.

 

According to New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, the Council and Commission use flawed data from one fishing season in 1998 to set the baseline for fluke limits without considering recent significant changes in the fluke population and fishing patterns. Furthermore, because of flaws in the state-by-state quota system, New York is arbitrarily saddled with a disproportionate burden of the federal plan for the fluke's recovery.  For example, in 2008 an angler on the New York side of Raritan Bay could land four fluke per day with each fish measuring at least 20.5 inches long while someone on the New Jersey side of the bay could land eight fluke at only 18 inches long. It defies logic that this system continues to perpetuate itself in the form of lower quotas and a loss of business in New York State simply because there is a lack of political will to fix this system at the Council and Commission level.  In order to correct this glaring inequity – one that gives New Jersey more than double the allocation than New York – an immediate investigation and administrative action are needed immediately to comply with the Magnuson-Stevens Act mandate requiring the best science available be used to determine quotas.

 

                In closing, I would like to highlight the testimony of one charter boat captain and small business owner from Long Island at a recent meeting my office hosted with NOAA officials.  A popular figure for years at the Captree port, this constituent announced at the meeting that after many years in the fishing business, he had to sell his business in large part because of restrictive fluke regulations and a loss of business to New Jersey.  As the fluke population rebounds in New York, it is unjust that the story of this Captree fisherman continues to play out, year after year across Nassau and Suffolk, with no end in sight.  This system must change and I implore you to act immediately.

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