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For Release: Wednesday, September 20, 2017

DEC Grants Safe Harbor to Fishing Vessel Impacted by Hurricane Jose

Vessel Carrying 6,000 lbs of Fluke Destined for North Carolina Encountered Rough Seas and Emergency Conditions

Incident Highlights Need for Action by Federal Regulators and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council to Provide Equitable Distribution of Fluke Fishery

On September 17, 2017, while in transit to North Carolina, the fishing vessel F/V Rianda S. requested Safe Harbor in New York from rough seas generated by Hurricane Jose. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) law enforcement and marine resources staff granted the request and the boat arrived in Montauk at 4:30 pm. The vessel was carrying fish caught in federal waters, including an estimated 6,000 pounds of fluke, and requested to land the fish in New York.

New York's Commercial Fluke Fishery is currently closed and the entire 6,000 pound landing would have had to be deducted from the State's remaining quota of 40,000 pounds, harming the local commercial fishing industry.

"New York will never turn a blind eye to ships in need during severe weather, but we take very seriously our responsibility to carefully manage our State's fishery and our commercial fishermen," said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. "We commend our counterparts in North Carolina for working with us on a plan to ensure these fish do not go to waste. We need to see the same level of cooperation from federal fisheries regulators to equitably distribute fluke quotas in the Atlantic."

State officials worked quickly to craft an agreement with North Carolina to transfer a portion of its quota to New York to allow the captain to sell half of his fish in New York. DEC is requiring the captain to donate the remaining 3,000 pounds of fluke to local food pantries, including Hope for the Future Mission in Farmingdale, Lighthouse Mission in Bellport and others, to discourage questionable decisions to fish in advance of a hurricane, which necessitated this safe harbor request. This will ensure that these fish are used to help those in need and discourage fishing in circumstances that could have avoided the need for safe harbor.

Due to inadequate federal regulations, New York's quota will be reduced by 3,000 pounds even though the fish are being donated rather than sold in New York. With the fishing season currently closed in New York, State officials did not think it was appropriate for this captain to profit at the expense of New York commercial fishing industry. The only other alternative left to state marine fishery managers would be to allow 3,000 pounds of fluke to go to waste.

"If all Southern New England and Mid-Atlantic states were treated equally for fluke, this would be a non-story," said Bonnie Brady, Executive Director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association. "If fluke was managed as a coastwide quota instead of a state by state system, the Rianda would have fished and then landed at home, instead of needing to steam south for two days. Jose had other plans unfortunately, requiring them to take safe harbor. This federally-regulated state by state quota system that created winners and losers with NY always losing needs fixing and must stop discrimination between residents of different states when assigning fish allocations and compromising the safety of New York Fishermen."

Currently, federal regulations by the National Marine Fisheries Service do not allow for any waiver for emergency landings of fish for a ship requesting safe harbor and count any fish against the landing state's quota. In addition, as New York's quota is already low due to the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council's (MAFMC) continued reliance on outdated and incomplete historical landing records for the fluke fishery. This issue highlights the need for a more equitable distribution of fluke quota between Atlantic states.

New York is once again calling on the MAFMC to revise their methodology and more evenly distribute fluke quotas along the coast.

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