Home News Local News Feds back off controversial plan to close commercial bluefish fishery mid-season

Feds back off controversial plan to close commercial bluefish fishery mid-season

A commercial fishing boat dockside in Mattituck last year. File photo: Peter Blasl

The Long Island bluefish fishery will not be closed mid-season as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced last month, which prompted an outcry from federal and state elected officials and commercial fishermen.

A new federal rule will now allow transfers of bluefish quotas from the coast-wide recreational quota to the commercial quota, ensuring that the fishery can continue to harvest bluefish for the remainder of the season, the governor and members of the New York congressional delegation announced yesterday. As a result, 1.58 million pounds from the recreational fishing sector will be transferred to the commercial quota.

“With this common sense, flexible decision by the NOAA, we have reeled in a major win for Long Island’s commercial fishing boats,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer. “With the quota transfer, our Long Island fishing boats – who were facing a harsh and premature closing of the fishery — can keep earning, employing others and harvesting their catch. The feds did the right thing by heeding the call and supporting an industry that has deep history on Long Island.”

The “ill-conceived plan” to close the commercial bluefish fishery “would have dealt a devastating blow to this vital industry,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press release yesterday. “This administration and the members of our congressional delegation will continue to fight for equitable policies that do not put these hardworking New Yorkers at a competitive disadvantage.”

“Since NOAA first released their plan, I have been working closely with NOAA and NYSDEC directly to reverse the misguided ruling and prevent the closure of the commercial bluefish fishery,” Rep. Lee Zeldin said.

“It was unacceptable that several months into the 2016 fishing season, federal officials abruptly announced that New York went over its quota for 2015, a decision based off of old data and poor science,” the First District congressman said. “As a direct result of our advocacy, NOAA took a second look at the data that was outdated and wrong, and revised their plan allowing commercial blue fishing to continue. The fight to make sure all these decisions are based on up to date data and sound science will continue but this is a solid win.”

New York State often relies upon the transfer of unused commercial quota from other states to extend the season of its commercial bluefish fishery and this new federal rule helps ensure that those fish are available and the fishery remains open, according to the governor’s office.

Through the federal Bluefish Fishery Management Plan, the amount of the transfer from the recreational fishing sector to the commercial quota depends upon estimated recreational landings from the previous year. Harvest data released by NOAA in mid-June 2016 showed heavily inflated recreational bluefish landings from New York’s for-hire recreational vessels during May and June of 2015, Cuomo’s news release said. This harvest data prompted NOAA to declare that the transfer of pounds from the recreational sector to the commercial quota would be suspended in 2016, At that time, New York State had already harvested approximately 350,000 pounds of bluefish commercially and the suspension of the transfer would have shut down New York’s commercial fishery in June, a severe economic blow to commercial fishermen, the governor said.
New York State immediately challenged both the accuracy of the recreational harvest data and the timing of the data release, presenting accurate data from all licensed charter vessels during May and June of 2015 to demonstrate the inaccuracy of federal projections. NOAA’s recreational harvest data was released two months later than normal which precluded New York State from taking any reasonable management steps to slow down the rate of harvest by its commercial fisherman.

NOAA will release revised recreational landings data later this month but has already adopted a federal rule which will allow New York’s commercial fishermen to harvest bluefish at near-normal rates. New York State will continue to work with NOAA to improve management for Bluefish to ensure an equitable quota distribution and that such an issue will not occur in the future.

Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.