Fishing Limits Worry Charter Boat Captains
MIKE VEGESSI, the captain of the fishing boat Lazy Bones, still remembers the newlyweds who came aboard his vessel in 1991 and spent the time with their arms wrapped around each other. Then a fish struck their line. The rod bent so much that Mr. Vegessi thought the man had hooked a shark or a manta ray.
What he pulled up was an 18-pound summer flounder as big as a doormat.
“You don’t see many like that,” said Mr. Vegessi, 55, whose 35-foot rig operates out of Montauk Harbor.
What worries Mr. Vegessi these days is that people will be catching fewer summer flounder, or fluke, of
any size because of new regulations handed down by the State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Professional fishermen say the restrictions will reduce fishing for this popular species so much it
could drive some of them out of business.
The restrictions were based on data provided by the National Marine Fisheries Service to prevent
overfishing and rebuild fish stocks. The fishery management plan was created by federal and state
agencies and put in place by votes of their councils and commissions.
Fishermen say the restrictions are based on a faulty survey, a contention federal officials dispute.
Mr. Vegessi said the restrictions were not necessary. “There are more fish around now than ever,” he
Last season, New York fishermen were allowed to land fluke more than 20 ½ inches long and keep four a
day. This year, the size has been increased to 21 inches with a two-fish limit. In addition, the season
has been broken into two parts — from May 15 to June 15 and July 3 to Aug. 17 — with a
Taken together, the changes are viewed as a disaster by charter boat captains, who usually cater to five
or six passengers at a time, and owners of party boats, which can handle from several dozen to more than
a hundred anglers.
“It’s going to be a killer,” said Carl Forsberg, a 27-year-old captain and fourth-generation fisherman
with the Viking Fleet. “Not only for us, but for Montauk in general.”
Fishermen said that the new limits on fluke are flawed because they are linked to a Marine Recreational
Fisheries Statistical Survey from 1998. The state has sued the federal government to change the numbers
used in creating the quotas, contending that the fluke limits set among the states are unfair and not
based on the best scientific methods available as required by law.
The fisheries statistical survey was really of anglers, not the fish population, and is only a small
part of the information used to determine fluke quotas, said Teri Frady, a spokeswoman for the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the fisheries service. That calculation comes
from a continuing compilation of federal, state and independent studies by fishery scientists that look
at things like the number of fish landed and the current population in the ocean, she said.
“Those assessments have been peer-reviewed 17 times in the last 24 years,” Ms. Frady said.
New York fishermen caught 583,000 fluke last year, exceeding the quota by 61 percent. But James J.
Gilmore Jr., the Department of Environmental Conservation’s chief of marine resources, said studies in
recent years indicated that the fluke population was both on the rise and moving farther north.
Fred E. Bird, 81, the captain of the Flying Cloud off Montauk, said his passengers especially like
landing fluke. “They put up a good fight,” he said. “You don’t have to be an expert to catch them. It’s
great fishing in the summertime.”
He said the new rules would actually hurt the fluke population because undersize fish returned to the
water often die and the new size requirement ensures that more will be thrown back. Fluke more than 18
inches long usually are female.
“The bigger fish are the ones that propagate,” Mr. Bird said.
One factor that will hit the fishing industry particularly hard is the midseason shutdown, said
Assemblywoman Ginny Fields, a Democrat whose district includes parts of the Towns of Brookhaven and
Islip. The new rules mean that Father’s Day — the biggest day of the year for fishing and tackle sales —
is now off the schedule, she said.
“It’s just another instance of fishermen getting kicked in the teeth,” she said.
New York Times