July 26, 2006
Throw it back and drop another line. That's the message the East Hampton Town Board sent to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation last week. Members unanimously approved a measure requesting an audit of state numbers relating to the 2006 harvest of fluke and scup (also known as porgies).
Councilman Brad Loewen sponsored the initiative.
Recently, local fishermen have learned that quotas for the two species have been exceeded or severely curtailed, resulting in a reduction and in the case of fluke a closure of the fisheries.
According to the town board resolution, the limits placed on scup have rendered it "economically infeasible" to catch them commercially. So few fish are permitted, the overhead inherent in launching a trip can cancel out the proceeds of a curtailed catch. Last Thursday, Loewen reported, "Every boat's tied up at Three Mile Harbor." The DEC has completely prohibited the taking of fluke because limits have been exceeded.
Both commercial fisherman and town board members don't think that's fair. If indeed those who cast their nets during the winter season over-fished the species, why should those working the water during the summer be penalized?, Supervisor Bill McGintee wondered. He thinks it'd be better to set and adjust catch limits per season, meaning if the winter anglers over-fish, they should suffer the consequences the following winter season.
While lawmakers agree in theory with the notion of setting catch limits as a way to ensure the continued viability of the commercial fishing industry, board members want to be sure the data used to set limits is accurate. The resolution seeking an audit states "the Town Board has been informed by local fishermen that they believe errors in calculating the total tonnage of scup and fluke taken thus far this year may have occurred." In other words, the reduction and closure may have been ordered inappropriately.
Should an audit reveal that calculation errors have occurred, Loewen's measure asks the DEC to act immediately to reopen the fisheries. Also, the resolution asks state officials to rethink the manner in which fishing limits are set and adjusted so that those who benefited from over-fishing are the ones who pay the price of reduced limits or closed fisheries.