Albany — When the DEC late last year announced a list of fish and wildlife species “of greatest conservation need,” winter flounder were on the lengthy list.
“These species are expected to experience significant declines over the next 10 years and will need management intervention to secure their populations,” an outline prefacing the nine-page list read.
But at the same time, New York is proposing to lengthen its flounder fishing season five-fold, from 60 to 306 days (March 1-Dec. 31) to “provide New York marine recreational anglers with similar access to winter flounder as anglers in neighboring states of Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Jersey,” DEC’s website read.
The two-fish daily limit with a 12-inch minimum size regulations would remain intact under the proposal, which has been met with mixed reviews within the saltwater fishing community.
The current season runs from April 1-May 30.
DEC’s website link which outlines the proposal says the extension of the season is “necessary for New York to maximize winter flounder fishing opportunities for its marine recreational anglers while remaining in compliance with the Interstate Fishery Management Plan adopted by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC).”
Officials said the extended winter flounder season will also provide additional saltwater fishing opportunities during times of the year when few species are in season.
“It is hoped that these relaxed regulations will increase interest and fishing activity, resulting in economic benefits to a number of different types of associated businesses,” the website read.
That statement, critics contend, is the real reason behind the creation of a lengthy flounder fishing. They claim party boat operators and tackle shop owners have lobbied for the expanded flounder season.
DEC officials considered several options before forging ahead with the extended season proposal. Among them:
• a or other more restrictive measures on the harvest of winter flounder. “Some stakeholders have said that the winter flounder fishery should be closed or more restrictive than it is currently managed to eliminate fishing mortality on these fish,” DEC’s website said in outlining the proposal. “However, neighboring states have already decided to extend the winter flounder season.”
As a result, the tightening of flounder fishing regulations was rejected because it “would deny New York state anglers fishing opportunities made available to anglers in neighboring states” and such a closure “may adversely impact the incomes of New York state recreational fishery businesses.”
• a “no action” alternative under which regulations, including season length, would remain intact. DEC officials said that, too, was rejected because New York’s current winter flounder season is shorter than those in neighboring states.
• an extension of the season that would be shorter than the 306-day proposal. That would have been allowed by ASMFC and “could provide some conservation benefit to the winter flounder stock, particularly those sub-populations that are resident in New York’s bays.” That alternative was also scrapped because it would mean New York’s flounder season would be shorter than in neighboring states.
Fluke regs unchanged
While the winter flounder season may be expanded, DEC officials announced the summer flounder (fluke) season will remain unchanged this year. That means a 128-day season (May 17-Sept. 21) with a five-fish daily limit and minimum keeper size of 18 inches.
New York in 2013 waged a battle with regulators over what they called was “fluke fairness,” in an effort to level the playing field for fluke anglers in New York, who in the past have watched anglers in neighboring New Jersey operate under more liberal size and catch limits – often while fishing the same general area.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass Management Board ultimately passed an addendum to the fishery management plan for fluke. In 2014, the number of fluke caught on the coast stayed within the “allowable harvest limit,” and the Commission adopted a provision that would continue the same regional approach into 2016.
Prior to the new Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s regional management approach, the recreational fishery operated under state-specific harvest limits that were produced using what DEC officials called an outdated system to allocate the catch among the coastal states.
Because the old system could not account for changes in the fish population, New York was penalized as the fluke population grew and would have been forced to take a 15-percent reduction in 2014 under the previous state-specific approach.
Anglers are reminded to register with the Recreational Marine Fishing Registry, which is required for fishing in the Marine and Coastal District. No fee is required.