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March 05, 2014

'Now We're All Equal'



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He's got friends "this big." Last summer Captain Richie Nessel took Billy Joel out fishing. Gene Pelland, who captains and cares for Joel's boats, was also on hand for the excursion, as the trio began talking about catch limits. In particular, they discussed inequity when it comes to summer flounder restrictions in New York compared to neighboring states.

During the trip, Joel came up with the idea of inviting Governor Andrew Cuomo out for a day's fishing.

"Billy was concerned about fishing limits and he reached out to the governor," Pelland recalled. The pair shares a lot of common interests, including a concern for the environment and the state of area waters. They've appeared together during cleanups in Oyster Bay, Joel's hometown.

"Billy was very adamant about trying to help," Nessel related. "That's how the governor ended up here with me."

Cuomo fished with Nessel, who operates his charter boat, Nasty Ness, out of Diamond Cove Marina in Montauk, "a couple of times this summer," the captain reported.

"Richie explained what he knew [about the catch limits] and relayed the heartbeat of Montauk. The governor took that to heart and said he was going to see what he could do," Pelland said.

A few short weeks later, Cuomo held a press conference on the deck at Swallow East in Montauk. At the gathering he demanded fairness from the federal government, which sets the catch limits. Cuomo, who was accompanied by State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, delivered an ultimatum to Department of Commerce officials: fix the problem or find a lawyer. He focused on summer flounder, or fluke, and the limits imposed on New York. Compared to anglers in New Jersey and Connecticut, fisherman here are required to catch larger, and fewer, summer flounder. Cuomo told the feds to level the playing field or expect a lawsuit.

Federal officials don't seem to realize, Governor Cuomo said dryly at the conference, "It's a regional fishery . . . I have news for the federal government, fish swim." Fluke aren't aware of boundaries between state waters. Catch limits should pertain to regional fisheries and there should be equality among the states. Otherwise, the numbers New Yorkers wind up with are "absurd," he said, and people can catch more fish in neighboring states. "That is just wrong and it is unfair," he said.

Industry advocates have been lobbying for fairness across the region for "about 10 years," Nessel said Sunday.

It took Cuomo five months to land a deal.

Last month he announced members of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted to create a region comprised of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, requiring the same rules for fluke fishing in all three states. Calling it a "big victory for our fishing industries," Cuomo noted, "For more than a decade, New York's saltwater anglers have endured the toughest fluke regulations on the eastern seaboard." Reminding that he's worked with the industry as governor and when he was attorney general, he said, "Our hard work has paid off." Cuomo applauded ASMFC members "for righting the status quo."

In turn, Nessel and Pelland are applauding the governor. This week, Pelland marveled that "something so casual" as a fishing trip could result in such rapid results. Cuomo called Nessel personally to tell him the news.

This weekend, Nessel discussed the call while working with Steve Forsberg of the Viking Fleet. Said Forsberg, "This is very, very good for Long Island and the State of New York. Now we're all equal."

kmerrill@indyeastend.com

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