12.22.16

SCHUMER REVEALS: NEW YEAR IS JUST DAYS AWAY AND LI’S 2017 RECREATIONAL & COMMERCIAL FLUKE SEASON IS ALREADY IN JEOPARDY; JUST-RELEASED CATCH LIMITS SPELL TROUBLE FOR LI ANGLERS AND FISHING INDUSTRY; SENATOR DEMANDS FEDS USE BEST SCIENCE AND NOT OUTDATED DATA

Just Yesterday, NOAA Released Unfair Catch Quotas For 2017 Fluke Season; Current Benchmark NOAA Is Using Is Based On Outdated Model From 2013

Schumer Urges Dept. of Commerce to Reverse Just- Released NOAA Fluke Limits; Calls for Updated Benchmark Assessment to Be Conducted ASAP

Schumer: Dept. of Commerce Must Reel In NOAA To Protect LI Anglers and Fishing Industry Before Fishing Season Is Sunk

With the new year just days away, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, today, sounded an alarm and called on the U.S. Department of Commerce to push the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to conduct a new and science-based assessment on fluke catch limits that Long Island commercial fishing boats and recreational anglers rely on.  Schumer explained how, just yesterday, NOAA released 2017 and 2018 catch limits on fluke—and they did so using an outdated model Schumer wants revised. Schumer said the outdated model, if allowed to go unchecked, will wreak havoc on the Long Island fishing community in 2017 and could sink the local fishing industry – along with the jobs and families that rely on fair fluke rules.

“It’s not even New Year’s Day and the feds have already managed to drop the ball on setting fair fluke limits based on real science, rather than on outdated information,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “Here again, Long Island is up against unfair fluke quotas that could weigh down our vital fishing economy in 2017. So, today, I am sounding the horn so we can reel in NOAA before they settle on these overly-stringent catch quotas; we need fluke fairness, not data models dredged up from the bottom of the bay. The best available science should win the day, so my argument to the feds is to take a look at the science, update the model and get 2017 back on the right track for this essential recreational and job-generating Long Island industry.”

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. Schumer explained that the most recent flounder benchmark assessment took place all the way back in 2013. Until a new benchmark assessment is conducted, Schumer said that NOAA is relying on old data from the 2013 benchmark assessment to make decision today—a grave disservice to the Long Island fishing industry. For instance, Schumer revealed that the Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) and recreational & commercial limits will be reduced for summer flounder in 2017 by nearly 30 percent, and by 16 percent in 2018. Therefore, Schumer is urging the Department of Commerce to reign in NOAA and quickly conduct an updated benchmark assessment on summer flounder that is based on the most up-to-date, accurate data and models.

Bonnie Brady, Executive Director of the LI Commercial Fishing Association said, “Senator Schumer has never forgotten his coastal constituents, he continues to fight for fishermen and their communities, holding NMFS accountable for its non-timely science and its often draconian catch limits. Fishermen and their communities, both commercial and recreational/for-hire, are among the heritage industries of Long Island. Those who continue the fishing tradition have been often saddled by the Feds with unfair regulations based on inadequate data and untimely science. Without the relief of a new benchmark on fluke, one of Long Island’s iconic fisheries, and the people who depend on them, may be severely compromised.”

"We thank our senate minority leader Chuck Schumer who understands this issue very well and has been with us from the beginning.  Basing harvest limits on outdated data & models is destroying the New York fishing community, it is crucial that all federal decisions are based on the most accurate scientific data & models.  Waiting another day for a new summer flounder benchmark assessment is one day too many,” said Jim Donofrio, Executive Director, Recreational Fishing Alliance.

Effective January 1st, 2017 the NOAA’s commercial quota on summer flounder is 5.66 millions of pounds. Earlier this year,NOAA said that the commercial quota for 2017 would be 7.91 millions of pounds—a reduction of nearly 30 percent. The NOAA also lists the commercial quota on summer flounder for 2018 at 6.63 millions of pounds. Earlier this year, NOAA said that the commercial quota for 2018 would be 7.89 millions of pounds—a reduction of approximately 16 percent.

Likewise, effective January 1st, 2017, the NOAA’s recreational harvest limit on summer flounder is 3.77 millions of pounds. Earlier this year, NOAA said the recreational harvest limit on summer flounder would be 5.28 millions of pounds—a reduction of nearly 30 percent. The NOAA also lists the recreational harvest limit on summer flounder for 2018 at 4.42 millions of pounds. Earlier this year, NOAA said the recreational harvest limit on summer flounder would be 5.26 millions of pounds---a reduction of approximately 16 percent. Schumer said that flawed, outdated datasets are used to set these limits for recreational and commercial fluke allocations along the East Coast.

Schumer has long advocated for Long Island’s fishing industry and in 2013, organized a hearing before the Senate’s Commerce Committee entitled, “Developments and Opportunities in U.S. Fisheries Management” to specifically explore the problems facing the summer flounder management system. At the hearing, Executive Director of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, Robert Beale testified that particularly in the recreational sector, the flawed baseline data and models in the state-by-state conservation equivalency system has resulted in ever increasing size limits, reduced bag limits and shorter seasons for most of the states while the stock was at a low level and recovering. Beal went on to say that the restrictive measures affect New York the most, where the size limit reached 21 inches by 2009. In 2012, with a fully recovered stock, New York’s minimum size (19.5 inches) was at least one inch higher than any other state and one and a half inches higher than Connecticut and two inches greater than New Jersey.  Beale concluded by saying that the latest data from the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP), a more modern survey than the old data used in the 1998 baseline, supports New York’s contention that their allocation is too low compared with the State’s fishing effort.

In 2015, Schumer introduced the Fluke Fairness Act. The bill allows for the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Council and the Atlantic States Fisheries Commission to consider creating regional zones between neighboring states to create uniform size limits for recreational fishermen.  Similarly, in the commercial sector, it prohibits the Council and Commission from using the flawed, old data sets to determine quota allocation if they continue the state-by-state system for commercial fishermen.  Schumer said the legislation is drafted to give the fishery managers flexibility to use the best science and newest management tools available, but explicitly prohibits the continuation of the status quo.

A copy of Schumer’s letter is below:

December 22, 2016

The Honorable Penny Pritzker

Secretary

U.S. Department of Commerce

1401 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20230

The Honorable Kathryn Sullivan

Administrator

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

1401 Constitution Avenue, NW
Room 5128
Washington, DC 20230

Dear Secretary Pritzker and Administrator Sullivan:

I am writing today regarding the draft 2017-2018 quota allocations for summer flounder (fluke) that were recently discussed at the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s (MAFMC) December meeting. It has come to my attention that MAFMC and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a final rule with major reduction in the Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) for both the recreational and commercial summer flounder fishery quotas for 2017-2018.  I also understand that this decision is based off the last full summer flounder benchmark assessment which was completed in 2013 and a new benchmark assessment has been delayed since 2015.  These reductions would have a major impact on the livelihoods of many New York fishermen both recreationally and commercially, as well as the shore-side businesses that rely on this important fishery.  Therefore, I urge you to revisit and amend the final rule to the current 2016 quota levels until a new summer flounder benchmark assessment is completed, which will help ensure that decisions of this magnitude are based off the best and most up to date science.

As you know, summer flounder represents a vital fishery for the eastern coast of the United States, especially New York, for its many constituencies, from recreational and charter fishing families, to commercial fishermen who rely on fluke to help support their families and communities.  With New York holding only 7.65 percent of the overall Mid-Atlantic States' commercial quota, an additional 29 percent cut in 2017 and a 16 percent cut in 2018 would be devastating to the many communities who rely on this important fishery to survive.  Decisions of this magnitude should be based solely upon the most up to date science data & models, which is why it is imperative that you complete a new summer flounder benchmark assessment as quickly as possible but no later than 2017.

Furthermore, current and up-to-date science is crucial to ensuring the conservation and continued sustainability of not only summer flounder, but all our Mid-Atlantic species. According to the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) workshop calendar, the last summer flounder benchmark stock assessment workshop was in 2013.  As I am sure you are aware, these benchmark assessments should take place every three years.  New data, models, and papers, all with which could bring new science to the table, cannot be admitted unless at a Stock Assessment Workshop (SAW) SAW/ Stock Assessment Review Committee (SARC). As the three year anniversary of the last SAW has passed, and it is rumored that the new benchmark may be delayed until 2018, I implore you to place summer flounder on the schedule for a full SAW/SARC no later than 2017. 

Again, I urge you to complete a new summer flounder benchmark assessment as quickly as possible, while holding off on the proposed 2017-2018 quota reductions until the new benchmark is completed. This will ensure that decisions as important as these are made with the most up-to-date science available. I look forward to working with you on these very important issues.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator

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