A commercial fishing boat dockside in Mattituck in 2015. File photo: Peter Blasl.

New York State has filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Commerce Department challenging the “unlawful and unfair” 2020-2021 quota allocated to New York in the commercial fluke (summer flounder) fishery, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Letitia James announced yesterday.

New York is seeking a revised allocation that would give the state’s commercial fishing industry an equitable share based on current — not 40-year-old — fluke fisheries data.

“New York’s commercial fishing industry is a critical economic driver that has been held back by outdated federal restrictions for decades,” Cuomo said.

“After numerous attempts to work with the federal government to adjust this unfair quota, we’re forced to make our case through the courts to protect the hardworking men and women of this industry. We will not back down until these unreasonable limits on New York’s fishing industry are made right.”

State-by-state allocations for commercial fluke were set in the early 1990s using incomplete landings data from 1980 through 1989. At that time, New York’s allocation was set at 7.6 percent of the coast-wide quota, while neighboring states got much higher allocations: up to 15.7% for Rhode Island, 16.7% for New Jersey, 21.3% for Virginia and 27.4 for North Carolina.

New York’s commercial fishermen and women and seafood dealers have suffered under this low allocation since the 1990s, resulting in closures and daily trip limits of 50 – 70 pounds in 2017, 2018 and 2019 for most of the year, while boats from other states are fishing next to New York boats with trip limits of several thousand pounds, the governor said.

The state had been pursuing equity for its commercial fishing industry, as well as modernization of regulations to reflect the fishery as it currently exists, officials said yesterday. New York officials have been participating in the amendment process to the fluke fishery management plan through the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, which makes recommendations to the federal Commerce Department, which in turn establishes annual state quotas.

The council’s process has been ongoing since 2014 but has yet to result in equity for New York or consistency of the fishery’s management with the best-available science, the governor said. The state’s repeated efforts to introduce alternatives that significantly increase New York’s share of the commercial quota for fluke have been thwarted by voting members representing the interests of other states.

“These decisions, based on inadequate historical landings data and regional decision-making that never approves a fair and equitable share of quota for New York, threatens the vitality of our fishing operations and the jobs we support,” said Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association.

New York is calling on the federal government to comply with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and end this unfair treatment of New York State’s commercial fishermen and women, Cuomo said.

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