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Jun 4, 2019 9:41 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Zeldin Is Right In Calling For Non-Compliance Over Black Sea Bass

This weakfish that Steve Lobosco caught in the Peconics recently looks like it had had a run-in with something that wanted to see how it tasted.
Jun 4, 2019 11:09 AM

I think that U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin has it right when he says that New York needs to take drastic steps to get out from under the unfair restrictions by federal fisheries overseers when it comes to the harvest of black sea bass.

Last month Mr. Zeldin formally called for New York to go into “non-compliance” and set black sea bass regulations that would protect its fishermen, even if it means the calculations of the impacts of New York’s rules would not show it meeting federally mandated quotas.

In light of the ongoing failure of federal rule makers to straighten out a quota system for black sea bass and other species based on decades-old data that was horribly flawed to begin with, I think this stance is one whose time has come. It’s not the way states should be reacting to federal rules, and it’s not a good way for fish stocks to be managed. But when the game gets too unfair, sometimes just leaving the playground is the only option.

Mr. Zeldin has argued in recent statements that the current system for allotting quotas to each individual state is horribly inequitable, and he’s dead right. New York saw its black sea bass quota cut last year by 12 percent, while other states saw much smaller—or no—reductions to their own quotas, and some were even able to loosen their limits.

Those who have howled about this absurdity have often pointed to stock assessment data that shows the black sea bass population to be more than double what fisheries scientists say it needs to be to sustain fishing pressures. I think that doesn’t even speak to the point. Harvest levels don’t need to be liberalized, they just need to be parsed out equitably so that fishermen in one state are not being treated differently from fishermen in another state.

As I have said in this column many times, and Mr. Zeldin has spotlighted: that is especially true when you are talking about those unfair quotas having a direct impact on the livelihoods of those who earn their livings taking people fishing.

The regulations that the awful federal quota apportionment system has left in its wake are so unfair that it really is almost absurd to think that New York would expect its fishermen to comply with them. And, indeed, many recreational anglers do not. But professional captains who take fares, have to do so or face major consequences to their business.

The inequities trickle down in several species, and in both commercial and recreational sectors, but the most egregious by far is in the harvest of black sea bass by recreational anglers.

During the all-important fall and early winter season, when thousands of people from around the tri-state area are looking to get on charter or party boats to help stuff their freezers with sea bass fillets for the winter, those on New York boats may bring home only seven fish, while those on New Jersey boats may bring home 15, with a 2-inch-small minimum size (not that size is usually a big deal when it comes to black sea bass, since most anglers are trying to put together a creel of fish that are all 8 or 10 inches over the minimum these days).

Those ratios almost exactly mirror the apportionment of the overall quota of black sea bass to the two states—a divergence that has nothing to do with population or the number of anglers from each state who might be looking to tap the fishery, just bad data and bad policy.

It is infuriating, and I can’t even imagine how infuriating it must be to someone for whom paying the mortgage depends on having their railing of their boats full with anglers in November. So bravo to Mr. Zeldin for demanding equity. I hope he will push the fight further, and win.

I do disagree with some other aspects of Mr. Zeldin’s criticisms of the federal management system, like his call for Captain John McMurray, a conservation-minded fishing guide from western Long Island, to be removed from the state’s delegation to the ASMFC, and the curious position that striped bass quotas shouldn’t be drastically reduced in light of an obviously greatly diminished stock.

But I’ve always applauded his crusade to get the Block Island Transit Zone (as I did when his predecessor was championing it), and I very much would like to see him take the fight over equity in quota apportionment to the mattresses until the old system swims with the fishes.

Catch ’em up. See you out there.

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So, Zeldin is actually saying to break the law?
By tenn tom (259), remsenburg on Jun 6, 19 9:49 PM