Stingy Federal Fishing Quotas Propel Suit From NY

David Goethel sorts cod and haddock on April 23, 2016, while fishing aboard his trawler off the coast of New Hampshire. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

MANHATTAN (CN) – It’s no fluke — New York wants more fish.

A federal complaint the state filed Thursday against various government entities says federal fishing quotas are based on outdated data.

“New York’s quota … [is] unfair to fishermen and other market participants (such as pack houses and other downstream businesses) in New York by skewing fishing privileges to fishermen and other market participants in North Carolina and Virginia, contrary to the geographic distribution of the fishery, and without any rational conservation basis,” the complaint states, taking aim at the National Marine Fisheries Services and two parent agencies, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Commerce.

A representative for the Fisheries Service declined to comment, citing a policy on litigation matters. The NOAA had referred an inquiry to the agency, and the Department of Commerce has not returned a request for comment.

New York notes in its suit that the state is slated to take 880,000 of 11.53 million total pounds of flounder in 2020 per the federal catch limits. This is just 7.6% of the total, despite New York being the center of the biomass of summer flounder, according to the complaint. The state sued over the 2019 catch limits in January.

Flounder is a popular menu item, and New York notes that the fish now grow mature in northern waters, such as those off the coast of New York, due to its migratory patterns and life cycle, as well as the warming climate.

That makes it a valuable resource here, but Governor Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Letitia James say New York fisherman are hampered by decades-old data that set quotas or the amount of fish each state can catch.

In their lawsuit, the officials complain about the inefficiency and wastefulness of the standards, which they say force fishermen to travel long distances to catch fish across state lines down the coast and then haul them back either by boat or by truck for sale in New York fish markets. Or they have to buy other state fishing licenses, the suit says.

“To eke out a living, some New York boats have had to purchase North Carolina or Virginia licenses, catch summer flounder off Long Island, then sail hundreds of miles south to land their catch,” the complaint states. 

In the Bronx, home to one of New York’s most prolific fish markets, one seller mentioned in the complaint estimated that only 5% of the fish there was actually caught in New York.

James says blame for the predicament lies with self-interested state voters in the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, which includes representatives from Virginia and North Carolina.

Unlike the January suit that was filed in in Brooklyn, Thursday’s suit was filed in New York’s Southern District. That case was closed in July, with a right to reopen before April 2020.

As with the last suit, the plaintiffs today include the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and its commissioner, Basil Seggos.

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