The Tide Must Turn for New York Fishermen

Op-ed by Congressman Lee Zeldin (R, NY-1)

In a district nearly completely surrounded by water, our waterways are our way of life, supporting tens of billions of dollars in economic activity per year. For our local recreational and commercial fishermen, it is how they make a living and provide for their families, but year after year the livelihood of our community’s anglers has suffered.

New York anglers have been put at a great disadvantage, suffering at the hands of lower quotas and allocations than neighboring states. That means when two boats are fishing next to each other, one may be allowed to catch up to double the amount of the other because it is landing the fish in New Jersey or Connecticut instead of New York.

Last year, we witnessed the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Council (ASFMC), the multi-state organization that sets fishing quotas, cut off New York fishermen from their fair share of black seas bass while allowing New Jersey’s allocation to grow. This was despite black sea bass being over 240% above the target biomass. This discrepancy is ridiculous and inequitable, and this year the ASFMC is serving up a bad case of deja vu.

Due to the failures of New York’s delegates, these inequitable quotas on multiple fisheries will continue through this upcoming season. This is totally unacceptable, and we must secure parity for local fishermen, small business owners and those who rely on the tourism this industry draws into our region. It is important to point out though that of New York’s three seats on the ASMFC, Emerson Hasbrouck has consistently demonstrated an unwavering commitment to fighting for New York’s fishermen.

Many of my constituents are fishermen and small business owners trying to attract customers, and this decision hurts their ability to make a living and support their families. Customers who are equidistant from Long Island and New Jersey are going to take their business to the place they can catch the most fish, and right now, that’s not Long Island.

Right now, the only thing New York’s delegates to the ASMFC seem to be effective at is taking it lying down. These decisions have taken place while a New York delegate has served as the ASFMC’s chairman, which is appalling. In addition, New York’s third delegate, John McMurray, who has somehow managed to become known as the most notorious and hypocritical anti-fishermen fishermen in the state, is the antithesis of who should be appointed to the ASMFC and must be removed.

If they won’t fight for hard-working New Yorkers, Governor Cuomo must appoint delegates who will. Middle-class Long Islanders are losing their vessels and family businesses over bad policy, and they can’t afford to wait. With their livelihoods relying on the health and vitality of our community’s waterways, there’s no doubt our area fishermen are committed to protecting and preserving our environment, but when New Jersey fishermen are catching twice the fish in the same waters, they’re unfairly bearing the burden.

For example, thanks to the advocacy of New Jersey’s delegates on behalf of New Jersey’s anglers, New Jersey’s commercial Summer Flounder quota of 1,500 lbs per week at the height of the season is more than triple New York’s commercial Summer Flounder quota of 490 lbs per week this season.

That’s why I’m calling on New York to follow the successful model of other states like New Jersey in going into non-compliance to finally take a stand for New York anglers who continue to get screwed. Non-compliance is never the first option but allows New York to set its own fair and equitable quota and provide immediate relief as we continue to urge state delegates to the ASMFC to get their act together. In 2017, with those at every level of government and side of the aisle on board, the State of New Jersey proposed their own quota for recreational Summer Flounder (aka Fluke), was found “out of compliance” by the ASMFC, appealed the ASMFC’s decision all the way to the Secretary of Commerce and won.

Last year, I helped secure House passage of the largest fishing reform legislation in a decade, the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act, which improved federal fisheries law so regulations and quotas can be more transparent, equitable, and fair, and improves data collection and science and ends the current arbitrary ten-year rebuilding timeline by replacing it with a more flexible approach that helps fishermen while preserving important fisheries. This Congress, the House must once again pass this important legislation, and the Senate must finally take action to send it to the President’s desk.

It is imperative that New York State step up to the plate for our fishermen as well and pursue alternative data collection methods so that flawed decisions made by the ASMFC can be challenged. The State of Florida is instituting its own data collection program on Red Snapper utilizing state resources from local universities to do the science and statistics. With world-class marine science institutions like Stony Brook, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF), and Cornell that can do the research, this is the model New York should be following.

Since my time in the New York State Senate when I led the successful effort to repeal the Saltwater Fishing License Fee to today, I’ve never stopped fighting for hardworking Long Islanders and to protect and preserve the waterways that so many of them rely on, and we cannot stop now. As we head into this year’s fishing season, we are reminded of just how urgent it is to turn the tide for our local fishermen.

Congressman Lee Zeldin represents New York’s First Congressional District in the House of Representatives.

For Immediate Release
May 28, 2019
Press Contact: Katie Vincentz
(202) 431-9210
katie.vincentz@mail.house.gov

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