New regulation to sideline local fluke fishermen

Anglers aboard Captain Bob Rochetta’s boat Rainbow Charters in Orient Point showing off their catch from last season. (Courtesy photo)

Just two months after new fluke fishing size and catch limits gave New York anglers some relief, North Fork charter boat captains say a new regulation will keep fishermen docked during the height of the local season.

State Department of Conservation officials have announced the 2014 fluke fishing season will not open until May 17 — more than two weeks after New York’s historical start date around May 1, said Captain Bob Busby, president of the North Fork Captains Association (NFCA). 

The announcement follows a February vote by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) to combine New York, New Jersey and Connecticut into a single region with regard to fluke size and catch limits. ASMFC helps regulate the region’s fluke stock.

New Jersey and Connecticut’s fluke season traditionally starts in mid-May, according to state environmental agency websites.

The new regulation is expected to cost area charter boat owners approximately 30 percent of their fluke season revenues, according to a letter outlining local concerns sent by the NFCA to regional lawmakers and state DEC officials.

“These new rules will clearly cause economic devastation out here for the charter/party fleet,” the letter reads.

“May is when the North Fork gets its run of fish,” Mr. Busby said in an interview Friday. “We get the May rush and they move east. They don’t stay here long.”

Mr. Busby is a member of the advisory panel about fluke for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

“We catch the fluke before anyone else does,” said Dave Brennan, captain of the Peconic Star Fleet in Greenport. “It’s a fluke of nature, so to speak. Anything we lose in the month of May is very expensive for us.”

In February, ASMFC also voted to change the tri-state area’s commercial and recreational fluke size limit to 18 inches — one inch smaller than last season — and issued a four-bag fish limit, putting New York in line with surrounding states.

The changes come after U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced in November plans to introduce legislation aimed at creating fairness for state anglers. Two months prior, Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce asking the agency to reassess fluke regulations and warning them that New York State was prepared to file a lawsuit if action wasn’t taken to ensure state anglers get a fair deal, according to a release from Mr. Cuomo’s office.

Though Mr. Busby was initially optimistic that attention from state legislators would help area fishermen, he said the resulting changes to size regulations mean little when area fishermen and tourists aren’t allowed to make a catch.

“This regional management was supposed to be an equalizer, but it is worse,” he said.

Rainbow Charters captain Bob Rocchetta, vice president of the Captain’s Association, said the later start date removes tourists’ ability “to catch a trophy fluke — and that’s why the people come here to fish.”

Mr. Rocchetta said he’s had to cancel charters, some of which cannot be rescheduled. He noted that bait and tackle shop sales will also be hurt by the new regulation.

“I’m probably going to lose close to $4,000,” he said.

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