2007-08-31 / Community

State Closes Fishing Season For Fluke,Flounder

Citing overfishing, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Pete Grannis announced today the closure of the summer flounder (fluke) season effective Tuesday, Sept. 4.

Preliminary data indicates New York has likely already exceeded its 2007 recreational fishing quota for summer flounder, set by federal mandates. If the state allows the season to remain open through the end of the year, it could trigger harsher regulations next year, the commissioner said.

"We know recreational fishermen and charter captains typically fish fluke into October. But if we do not shut down now, we risk greatly exceeding our quota and forcing a further clampdown on these businesses and anglers next year," Grannis said.

The shutdown does not apply to commercial fishing.

Earlier this year, DEC - with input from the recreational fishing industry - increased the minimum size for taking fluke, from 18 inches to 19.5 inches, and maintained a four-fish-per-day cap. This was done largely to try to meet stricter federal limits on recreational fluke fishing. New York's fluke quota for 2007 was lowered to 430,000 from 650,000 in 2006.

Data from the Marine Recreational Fishing Statistics Survey show that approximately 357,000 summer flounder had been taken in New York by the end of June. Data for July and August will not be available until mid-September; but based on patterns from previous years, DEC's Marine Resources Division estimates New York has already harvested more than its quota.

In addition, New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island fluke season are scheduled to close by early September.

"If New York's season stays open, we may attract anglers from other states, creating even greater potential for over-harvest," Grannis said. "Some might ask `Why bother since it is so late in the season?' But unless we do this now, overfishing will continue and we could be severely hurt next year."

Further, federal officials and interstate fishery management councils, who are amid a 13-year, coast-wide rebuilding plan for fluke, have already signaled that New York's and other Atlantic coast states' 2008 quota will be lower than 2007.

Fluke are one of the most sought-after commercial and recreational fish along the Atlantic Coast, from Florida to Nova Scotia. The federal Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, amended last year, requires that over-fished stocks be rebuilt by 2013. Annual quotas are established through the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in consultation with other federal and state entities and fishery councils.

In 2004, New York challenged the data used by the National Marine Fisheries Service to set the state's quota. But the U.S. Commerce Department ruled in favor of the NMFS plan.

"We recognize the importance of this industry and the impact this action will have,'' Grannis said, "and we'll continue to examine the quotas, as we go forward, as part of our efforts to balance all the interests."

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