Governor Cuomo Visits Montauk, Calls For Fairer Flounder Regulations

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Governor Andrew M. Cuomo visited Montauk last week to push the federal government to change flounder regulations that he argues stifle the state fishing industry. Otherwise, he said last week, the state will sue.

Mr. Cuomo urged the U.S. Department of Commerce to immediately reassess regulations on the number of summer flounder, or fluke, that may be caught legally by commercial or recreational fishermen and said the state is prepared to file suit to ensure that the fishermen get a fair deal.

Against a harbor backdrop at Swallow East restaurant at Montauk Harbor on Thursday, September 12, Mr. Cuomo was joined by State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.

The Commerce Department’s Fisheries Management Plan sets the number of fish that may be caught and hauled to shore each year, but the governor has argued that the data used to determine New York’s share of the fishery are incomplete and out of date, thereby hindering Long Island’s fishermen and hurting the fishing industry’s competitiveness with neighboring states, such as New Jersey, which have higher allocations. A result, according to Mr. Cuomo’s office, is that the state has been forced to raise size limits as high as 21 inches to meet the plan’s requirements, while fishermen in neighboring states can keep 17- to 18-inch fluke.

“The commercial and recreational fishing industries are a major economic engine in Long Island and New York State, but they are being unfairly limited by these outdated bureaucratic regulations,” the governor said in a statement. “The federal formula utilizes decade-old information, putting New York at a disadvantage to neighboring states and ignoring the communities and personal livelihoods of local fishermen who are losing money every day. The U.S. Department of Commerce needs to reform the status quo—and if they don’t, our state will have no choice but to go to court to defend New York’s commercial and recreational fishing industries.”

Summer flounder is one of the star species for commercial fishing in the state, with 1.4 million pounds of fluke caught in New York in 2011 at a value of $3.4 million, according to the governor’s office. If New York had the same allocations as neighboring states, the haul would have been nearly 4 million pounds, resulting in $9.8 million in revenue.

Similarly, Mr. Cuomo also called the federal government’s Fisheries Management Plan allocation detrimental to recreational fishing on Long Island, saying that in 2011 recreational fishermen caught more than 7.5 million summer flounder, but due to the plan’s limitation in the state, only about 375,000 of those could be harvested legally.

The state fishing industry, according to the governor’s office, generates about $1.8 billion in economic activity each year and supports nearly 17,000 jobs.

“I think it was well received,” said Bonnie Brady of Montauk, the executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, who attended the press conference. “I couldn’t be more pleased.”

“The fish didn’t decide to avoid New York and just go to Rhode Island,” she said. “We’re the only state with this inequity.”

Mr. Schneiderman called fishing one of the state’s proudest traditions, as well as a big source of jobs.

“The federal quotas create an unfair, competitive disadvantage that jeopardizes a vital industry,” he said. “There should be one set of rules for everyone, and I will use every tool at my disposal to ensure an even playing field for our workers.”

Mr. Cuomo sent a letter to the Department of Commerce outlining the negative effect the current Fisheries Management Plan has on the state fishing industry and called on the department to pursue new strategies for assigning state quotas.

If the department does not take action to change the formula for the 2014 summer flounder season, the state is prepared to file suit, officials said.

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