Fluke Regulations Loosened For 2013

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Just a few hours after the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted on an addendum to its coastwide fluke quota, New York State fisheries managers released the fluke regulations for New York anglers in 2013—cutting the minimum size by half an inch.
The fluke season will open May 1 and run through September 29, and anglers may keep four fish per day.

Other than the cut to the minimum size, which will be widely celebrated by anglers, the regulations are basically the same as last year.

Don’t forget that this was only made possible by a last-minute amendment to the quota rules that allowed New York and New Jersey to “borrow” an allotment of fluke harvest that went unused by fishermen in the Carolinas last year. If not for that, we and our neighbors in New Jersey would have been looking at significant cuts to our fluke allowance this year, which would have meant fewer fish and bigger size limits.

The rub of the whole thing, of course, is still that New Yorkers are still subject to much greater constraints on our fluke harvest than any of our neighboring states, because of the painfully inequitable system by which the quota is divvied up among states. Not that four 19-inch fish per day is unreasonable, but why should anglers from New Jersey be allowed to catch twice as many per day? It’s time for a coastwide regulation system, or, at the very least, a new assessment of effort and landing levels.

Sea bass limits also came out this past week. I wish I could say they are as sensible as the fluke regulations are. The season will open July 10 and run through December 31. Anglers may keep eight fish per day, with a minimum size of 13 inches.

The July opener is well and good enough—it will allow fluke fishermen to season their coolers with a little color when it comes along, and having the season open through the New Year is good, if it holds up this year. (Last year, they shut it down two months early, because estimates showed New York anglers had overrun the quota.) Since we’re unable to foresee whether fisheries managers again will open up the season for a winter window in January and February like they did this year, it’s a shame to not guarantee the fishing in the early part of 2014. It seems as though the minimum size could easily have been raised to 15 inches, and a longer season could be allowed, if that math computes.

Still, it’s the third straight year that the minimum size for fluke in New York has been lowered after a decade of increases. Fluke are doing very well, thanks to years of careful—many would say too careful—restraint by managers and begrudging obedience by (most) anglers. It’s the fruit that painstaking labor produces and the sort of payoff that we should all keep in mind whenever some scientist tells us we need to catch fewer of a certain fish species. We’re seeing it now with cod and black sea bass and blackfish and, pretty soon, with striped bass.

The science of fisheries management is a damn sight far from perfect, but until it is, if we err on the side of restraint and sacrifice now, we’ll continue to see the benefits down the road.

There is an effort underway now in Congress to reauthorize the Magnusson-Stevens Fisheries Management Act, which governs how the National Marine Fisheries Service and its associated regional commissions and councils manage fish stocks and some critical changes need to be made before that is done.

Commercial fishermen have consistently showed that the methods by which the NMFS gathers and correlates the data it uses for its stock estimates is horribly flawed, and fixing it should be priority number one. It was hard to argue that the sun didn’t revolve around the earth until someone had the data that showed otherwise. The same must go for fisheries’ data. Certainly there will always be objections to any harvest limits, almost no matter how liberal they are, but if the science is strong, the constraints that must be placed on anglers and harvesters will be easy to defend, and respect for the rules will grow.

Good show once again to the East Hampton Sportsmen’s Alliance for the great job they did pulling together their third sportsmen’s expo in Amagansett this past weekend. The big turnout is the proof that they’re on the right track, and I only see this even growing each year.

A few little stripers are being caught along the ocean and bay beaches now. No keepers yet locally, but plenty of nice fish have flooded into the bays at the western end of the island, so we’ll be seeing our first fish soon enough. Dead weakfish found on the beach near Shinnecock and Mecox are evidence that the stripers are not the only early season arrivals. Squid are on the horizon, too.

Catch ‘em up. See you out there.

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