Fluke Quota Considerations

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First and foremost this week, congratulations should go out to Eastern Suffolk Chapter of Ducks Unlimited, which made the national organizations list of top-100 biggest fund-raisers for 2012. Mark Boruke, Duane Arnister, Ray Sachtlaben, Don Grodski, Kelly Gang and all the rest of the chapter’s organizers and legion of supporters deserve a round of applause. Whether we see it locally or not, that money they drum up helps our duck populations in the long run. And they have made our chapter a really fun one to be a part of again in the last few years. Good show all of you.

But here in 2013, it is that time of year when New York State’s fisheries managers are scrambling to come up with the formula of bag and size limits for the coming season that will keep New York anglers within the quotas assigned to us by the national authorities without putting charter boat captains and bait shops out of business. It is a nearly impossible and entirely thankless task and, thusly, they get it wrong a lot and take a ton of heat for it.

As per usual, there are a dozen hairpin turns in the road to this year’s formulas. We’ve talked a lot lately about changes needed to the striped bass limits but those are not going to be changing this year. Fluke and black sea bass are the most fickle and also the most important to party and charter boat owners and bait shops. We still don’t know yet whether the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Wizard of Oz of fisheries management, are going to allow this year’s quota of fluke to be balanced out between states, allowing those that don’t come close to landing the number of fluke they are allotted to “share” their quota with states that chronically overshoot their limits. The unequal state apportionments is 15-year old disaster that isn’t getting fixed anytime soon, the quota sharing proposal would at least bridge a few of the equality gaps.

But state managers who need to have their limits set in a few weeks can’t wait around for the gears of federal bureaucracy to break their corrosion, so they’re putting together their usual litany of options that their own scientists say will result in meeting the state’s quota.

Because we caught more fluke last year than we were technically supposed to, New York anglers had a 14-percent quota reduction dropped on us. That means that last year’s 150-day fluke season, four-fish bag limit and 19.5” minimum size is history. So now we’re either looking at fewer days, fewer fish or a higher minimum size.

The one thing the state scientists are set on is keeping the 19.5-inch minimum size, the smallest we’ve had in a decade. Fishermen, especially in the western reaches of Long Island, need the smallest limit they can get to put any keepers in the box at all. As I’ve discussed before, smaller size limits seem like the smartest course anyway since the smaller the size limit, the fewer undersized fish that are thrown back fatally wounded.

So, at 19.5 inches we’re either going to have to slash days off the season or reduce the number of fish anglers take home in a day, or both.

As usual, the state DEC and it’s Marine Resources Advisory Council (scientists and fishing industry reps) has released a list of options for seasons and limits it is considering and is asking stakeholders to offer their input.

There are more options than ever this year, 15 in all for fluke, ranging from a 110 day season and a four-fish daily bag to a 134-day season and a two-fish daily bag. Accepting that almost nobody wants to see a return to the days when an angler could bring home just two fish, the seven options for four-fish bag limits are likely where the discussion will focus.

The options vary pretty widely, though some are unrealistic, offering only a slim chance that the state will stay within its quota, or are more restrictive than is probably necessary to stay on quota. So there are probably three options that are most likely, each allowing a four-fish limit at 19.5 inches and seasons running from mid-May through at least Labor Day weekend. One option would have the season open May 17 and close on Labor Day, September 4. Another would have it open on May 20 but run through to September 15, giving charter and party boats another couple weekends in the high season. The third would be May 18 to September 8, a fairly inconsequential difference from the first choice, which is probably going to be what we end up with.

As long as the season is open on Memorial Day and doesn’t close until at least Labor Day, most anglers will probably be happy and no charter captains will lose their livelihoods. Many captains have purchased “extra” quota set aside for research, so they’ll be able to sneak in a few extra weeks of fishing either before the season or after.

Cod fishing picked up a bit this week. The fish are mostly small keepers but most anglers managed to put a good handful on ice aboard the Moriches and Montauk boats this weekend.

Catch ‘em up. See you out there.

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