21 January 2003
Volume XII, No. 1
Chairman Wise reminded the Council that it had accepted most of the original recommendations of the Subcommittee on Striped Bass & Fluke Special Commercial Harvest Permits. One such recommendation was that, if conditions were such that new permits were to be issued, only holders of marine commercial foodfish licenses would be eligible to receive them and those who had the older licenses should receive them first. At the Council’s November 2002 meeting, Councilor Dean Yaxa raised the question of the potential eligibility of those who did not possess a foodfish license but might have had a shellfish diggers permit; he did not believe such persons should be ineligible to receive a new striped bass and/or fluke special commercial harvest permit.. Mr. Wise stated that, in November, the Council directed the Subcommittee to meet again and consider this issue, making any revised recommendations on the point to the full Council at the January 2003 meeting. He stated that the Subcommittee did meet and he read the following statement from Subcommittee chairwoman Sima Freierman, who was not present:
“The summer flounder and striped bass permit plans suggested by our working group both stated, ‘Priority for issuance of licenses shall be based on the age of one’s foodfish license. That is, those licenses with the lowest foodfish license numbers will be the first to be granted new striped bass (or) summer flounder permits. One license will be issued for each lost under the cap.’ We were asked to consider inclusion of other fish licenses (clamming in particular) in setting the priority for (striped bass and fluke) special permits. After some discussion, the working group decided it could not do that because…
Councilor McBride, a member of the Subcommittee, understood why the Subcommittee reaffirmed its recommendation, but wondered whether the Council should consider an exemption to this recommendation for “hardship cases.” He would like the DEC to look into this possibility. Councilor Yaxa stated that he finds it objectionable that, now that bass and fluke season is over, holders of commercial foodfish licenses can move into the clamming industry to make money and when the striped bass and/or fluke season reopens, they can resume fishing for those species. Persons holding only a clamming license can only be clammers. This is not fair.
Chairman Wise stated that he understands the rationale behind the Subcommittee’s recommendation and agreed that a foodfish license holder for 12 years who did not have a striped bass or fluke permit and was assigned lower priority than a person who had never had a foodfish license before but did have a clamming license for 25 years would have a gripe. However, he felt uncomfortable with the trend towards ‘pigeonholing’ and compartmentalizing commercial fishermen, especially when this is done because of decisions those fishermen may have made years ago.
Councilor Tom Jordan, a member of the Subcommittee, reminded the Council that the striped bass and fluke special commercial harvest permits were special finfish permits. There are people who have had a foodfish license since its inception who have been finfishing all their lives that have been shut out of the commercial fisheries for striped bass and/or fluke. He asked what type of equity exists if these persons are put on a par with or at a lower priority than hundreds of people who have never held a foodfish license?
John Mihale, a commercial fisherman, commented that many people have a foodfish license but not a striped bass permit but do have a clamming license. A clamming license costs only $25.00, so they pick it up. The Subcommittee has recommended that new striped bass permits be issued only if the number of current permit holders drops to 550 (it is 560 presently) and the state’s annual commercial striped bass quota rises to 1,059,000 lbs. He suggested that the Council recommend that more striped bass permits be issued if either trigger is met, not necessarily both.
Mr. Jordan agreed that the Council might want to establish a lower limit on the number of both striped bass and fluke special commercial harvest permits. If the number of such permits falls to that number, more permits would be issued; in the case of striped bass permits, regardless of that year’s commercial harvest quota. He further noted that no realistic future scenario, either of the number of existing special harvest permits or annual catch quotas, is likely to produce a flood of new striped bass or fluke permits.
Mr. Charles Murphy of the North Shore Baymen’s Association stated that the current condition of the clam fishery is the worst he has ever seen. He said that clam license holders are only asking for a way to continue making a living from our fisheries. If he could get a striped bass permit, he could at least put food on the table. At present, he is stuck, holding only a digger’s permit.
Mr. McBride suggested that the Council consider recommending a moratorium on the issuance of new shellfish digger’s permit to help protect those in that industry. Mr. Colvin responded that this would require legislation; DEC did not have the authority to establish a shellfish digger’s moratorium through regulation. He noted that the Department shared licensing authority for inshore shellfisheries with the towns of Long Island, whose cooperation with any such moratorium would be necessary.
Chairman Wise stated that the Council accepted the Subcommittee’s original recommendation limiting eligibility for any new striped bass or fluke permits to persons already in possession of a commercial foodfish license and this has been its recommendation to DEC. He asked whether the Council wished to revise its recommendation? No change was made in the Council’s recommendation on eligibility rules for any new striped bass and/or fluke special commercial harvesting permits.
Mr. Wise asked the Council whether it wanted to make a recommendation on a “floor” for either striped bass or fluke permits; that is, if the number of either permit dropped to this number, more permits would be issued. Mr. Colvin observed that the higher striped bass annual quota trigger is not likely to be achieved anytime soon and the number of these special permits is not dropping off rapidly. He suggested that the Council deliberate on the possible permit number “floor” for either permit. Chairman Wise tasked the Subcommittee on Striped Bass and Fluke Special Commercial Harvesting Permits to meet with DEC staff, review the available data and other information on trends in the number of both special permits, and return to the Council at a future meeting with a recommended floor number for each permit.
Chairman Wise asked the Council to return to Councilor McBride’s suggestion for a moratorium on the issuance of new state shellfish digger’s licenses. He stated that the Council had recommended such a moratorium to the Legislature. In its recent recommendations to DEC for changes to commercial fishing license eligibility requirements, the Council suggested that DEC explore a shellfish diggers license moratorium with the Long Island towns. Mr. McBride stated that another recommendation could be made to the Legislature after being more closely examined and a specific proposal developed by the Council work group.
Mr. Colvin stated that the Council already did make a recommendation to institute a moratorium on diggers permits several years ago. At that time, there was a lack of support for such restrictions, particularly from town governments. Towns in western Long Island often view the issue of restrictions on shellfish diggers permits differently than East End towns. If the Legislature has a clear enough and strong enough signal that there is united support for restricting the number of diggers permits to act on it, something may happen. He suggested that DEC and the Council haven’t done much outreach on this idea to towns and to people in the shellfish industry. Chairman Wise stated that he will discuss the issue with the current chairman of DEC’s Shellfish Advisory Committee and suggest a joint discussion or committee involving MRAC, SAC, and DEC staff on restricting shellfish diggers permits.