Here I am boys and girls, crawling out of the wintertime cave. The daffodils are coming out along with the forsythia, and
it’s time to start talking about the Montauk fishing scene. It’s been a lousy winter for me, but those of you who love
fishing with frozen snot on your noses are probably still giggling with joy over the codfishing that took place from late
January into early March. Of course that doesn’t do much for you now, since the fishing has been pretty slow for a while
The fluke regs are now cast in stone. The season will be open from May 15 to June 15 and again from July 3 to August
17, with a two fish per person bag limit at twenty-one inches long. And, if you think that is bad, wait until next year. It
will be worse.
Here is my assessment of how we arrived at this point in the fluke fiasco; Once upon a time, the commercial draggers
found out where the fluke spent their winter vacations and proceeded to pound away at them until there were so few left
that regulations had to be put in place to protect them The powers that be came up with a number of fish that they
determined somehow to be how many fish should exist, and then had to come up with some regs to accomplish that goal.
The first step was to divide the fluke pie between commercial and recreational interests. Before the pounding took place,
fluke were primarily a recreational fish, but it was decided that 60% of the pie should go to the commercial interests and
40% to the recreational side. This was because it was determined by the “best available science” that the commercials
were landing 60% of the fluke. Of course the commercials were catching more fluke because they had almost wiped out
the fluke before they got inshore where the recreationals could catch any. And, there were hard numbers attesting to the
commercial landings while the best that they could come up with for the recreational side was a wild-ass guess. That was
the first stage of the screwing we got. And, there is no way that division is ever going to change,
Next they had to decide how to divide up the recreational pie by state. Here is where New York got screwed. Thanks to
our states fuel taxes, we pay considerably more for fuel than Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Jersey. As a result, New
your draggers that fished 60-70 miles offshore for the fluke found it economical to pack out in the neighboring states
where they could buy much cheaper fuel. Here were some hard numbers that could be used to determine each state’s
share of the fluke. Of course commercial landings had no bearing whatsoever on recreational landings, but the good old
“best science available” came into play. There were no recreational numbers other than wild-ass guesses, and that isn’t
science. In order for this to change, all the other states have to vote to reduce their quota in order to increase New York’s
quota. If that ever happens, those guys from all the other states better move to New York, because it isn’t going to be safe
for them to go home. There is currently a lawsuit being pressed to force the powers that be to come up with one set of
regs that will cover all the states, but in reality if that were to happen, it would be as unfair to all the other states as the
current regs are to New York. The larger fluke are mostly in their eastern range, and we here in Montauk, can put up with
a larger size limit than they can in Virginia or even at the western end of the island.
Here is where the new fishing license that we are all going to wind up with can make a difference. When all the states
have a salt water fishing license, there will finally be some “best available science” to determine how many recreational
anglers exist in each state, and thereby determine how the fluke pie should be divided. Will that happen? Your guess is as
good as mine, but it seems like a reasonable solution to me.
Now here is something else that may frost the old huevos. Right off the top of the fluke, pie three percent (approximately
500,000 pounds) has been removed for scientific research under something called the Research Set-aside Program. This
covers fluke, seabass and porgies, but right now I’m only talking about fluke. Someone applies for this program in the
same way that a scientist would apply to the government for a research grant and is awarded the grant allowing it to take
a certain amount of pounds of fish outside of the existing regulations. Apparently, or maybe allegedly is a better term,
the National Fisheries Institute, which is the lobbying arm of the commercial fishing industry in Washington, has been
given control over a certain amount of the research piece of the pie and, they have been auctioning it off. In other words,
a boat owner bids on x amount of pounds of fluke, pays his money and is allowed to catch those fish whenever he wants
regardless of the seasons. The draggers have been the main beneficiaries of this program ever since it’s inception, but
now things have changed, and a number of party and charter boats have latched onto it. They had to pay $1000 to enlist
in the program and have bid as high as $3.00/pound for every fluke that they want to catch outside the regs. Before this
year the going rate was less than $1.00/pound.
So, now when the fluke season shuts down on June 15, these boats are going to be able to legally put a big sign by their
boats that state “FLUKE NOW”, while their neighbors sit and wonder where all their fares went, Actually they probably
won’t have to wonder very long, because they’ll be able to wave to them as they board those winning bidder’s boats.
A skeptic might wonder who is keeping track of the amount of set-aside fish that each boat is taking. It is an honor (or
maybe dishonor) system, much like income tax. You tell the government how much income you have and then pay your
taxes based on that. These boats have to report when they leave the dock, when they return and how many pounds of
fluke they caught. And, we all know that nobody ever cheats on their taxes, right.
I’ll start posting reports regularly in early May when things start to get more exciting.
If you would like to get these reports sent to you directly, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and
I’ll put you on the list.