New York State officials visited Montauk on Thursday morning to send a clear message to federal officials: Change summer flounder quotas or we'll sue.
Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state is losing "tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars" because of unfair fishing limits, particularly on summer flounder, placed on commercial and recreational fisherman.
Together with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Cuomo is calling for the US Department of Commerce to reassess its quotas or face legal actions.
"We have gotten shortchanged by the federal government year after year in terms of how many fluke we can actually catch," Cuomo said, speaking to a large audience of mainly fishermen on the deck of Swallow East restaurant, overlooking the Montauk Harbor.
The limit on how much fluke can be caught is regulated by the state, but set by the DOC's Fisher Management Plan, based on what Cuomo said is historic data, dating to the 1980s, even though the fishery has recovered since. He said the regulations even violate state law.
"We are willing to bring a legal case — we hope it doesn't come to that, but at the same time, this has gone on too long and we're not going to take it anymore," Cuomo said.
According to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the Magnuson–Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which governs marine fisheries management, requires the federal government to use the best available science about where the stock of fish are located and not to discriminate between states.
Data over the past five years consistently shows that the fishery has replenished itself and that more mature fish are in New York waters, migrating north and east, he said.
He said he is ready to fight for an industry that generates $5 billion a year and employs 44,000.
According to Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who was not at the press conference, a total of 1.4 million pounds of summer flounder were
landed in New York at a value of $3.4 million in 2011.
"If New York's FMP allocation were the same as neighboring states, fishermen would have been allowed to land nearly 4 million pounds, resulting in $9.8 million in revenue," Thiele said.
"This is not just about economics. This is not just about a way of life," Schneiderman said. "This is about fundamental justice. This federal government is discriminating against New Yorkers and we're not going to stand for it and I'm proud to be a lawyer to represent you if they don't do the right thing."
Cuomo, who first brought this to the attention of the federal government when he was serving as the attorney general, said federal officials don't understand logistics and he called for equality among the states in the region.
For example, in New Jersey and Connecticut, the limit is five summer flounder at 17.5 inches, whereas in New York, the limit is four at 19.5 inches.
"They don't appreciate that this is a regional fishery. They are setting state by state limits," Cuomo said. "I have news for the federal government: Fish swim — that's what they do. Fish don't realize when they're in New York waters versus Connecticut waters. There's no demarcation in the sound — Flounder, you are now going through New York water to Connecticut water."