AG James And Governor Cuomo Announce Lawsuit Challenging Federal Quota For New York's Fluke Fisheries For 2020-2021

AG James and Governor Cuomo Announce Lawsuit Challenging Federal Quota for New York’s Fluke Fisheries for 2020-2021

Unlawful Fluke Allocation Hurts Competitiveness
and Viability of New York's Commercial Fishing Industry

NEW YORK – Attorney General Letitia James and Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that New York has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Commerce Department challenging the unlawful and unfair 2020-2021 quota allocated to New York in the commercial fluke (summer flounder) fishery. New York is seeking a revised allocation that would give the state’s commercial fishing industry an equitable share based on current—not 40-year old—fluke fisheries data.  

“It is unjust that New York’s fishing communities continue to be subjected to outdated restrictions on a key source of their livelihoods, which is why we are challenging this quota,” said Attorney General James. “Previous years of limiting commercial fluke fishing have shown us that the federal government's reliance on erroneous data violates federal fisheries law and stunts commercial growth in the state. My office will continue to fight for fair treatment of those who depend upon on our commercial fishing industry.” 

“New York's commercial fishing industry is a critical economic driver that has been held back by outdated federal restrictions for decades,” Governor Cuomo said. “After numerous attempts to work with the federal government to adjust this unfair quota, we’re forced to make our case through the courts to protect the hardworking men and women of this industry. We will not back down until these unreasonable limits on New York’s fishing industry are made right.”

“These historically biased federal quotas have forced New York State to restrict fishing access and are limiting the economic prospects of the next generation of commercial fishing businesses," Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said. "New York deserves equitable access to the abundant fluke in our waters and these forced management plans are putting unreasonable limits on our state’s commercial fishing industry. Through the leadership of Governor Cuomo and Attorney General James, New York continues to do everything in our power to change this quota.” 

Scientific studies have shown that the distribution of summer flounder and the summer flounder fishery have shifted north toward New York waters since federal allocations were first established. The data used by the U.S. Commerce Department to establish fluke fisheries allocations between the east coast states in the fishery, including New York, is from the 1980s, when the fluke population had been fished to low levels and was centered south of its present location. Since then, the fluke population has recovered and has migrated northward due, in part, to rising water temperatures from climate change.

The federal Magnuson-Stevens Act requires that fishery conservation and management measures adopted by the Commerce Department be consistent with 10 National Standards. New York’s lawsuit alleges that the quota assigned to New York for 2020-2021 is inconsistent with four of those standards, including National Standard 2, which requires that quotas be based on the best scientific information available, and National Standard 4, which requires quotas to be fair and equitable in assigning fishing privileges between the states. 

New York State had been pursuing equity for its commercial fishing industry, as well as modernization of regulations to reflect the fishery as it currently exists, by participating in the amendment process to the fluke fishery management plan through the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council — an organization that makes recommendations to the federal Commerce Department, which in turn establishes annual state quotas. The Council’s process has been ongoing since 2014, but has yet to result in equity for New York or consistency of the fishery's management with the best-available science. The state's repeated efforts to introduce alternatives that significantly increase New York's share of the commercial quota for fluke have been thwarted by voting members representing the interests of other states. In the absence of effective action by the Council, New York is calling on the federal government to comply with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and end the unfair treatment of New York State's commercial fishermen and women.   

State-by-state allocations for commercial fluke were set in the early 1990s using incomplete landings data from 1980 through 1989. At that time, New York's allocation was set at 7.6-percent of the coast-wide quota, while neighboring states were set significantly higher — Rhode Island's allocation was up to 15.7-percent, while New Jersey's was 16.7-percent. Further, Virginia and North Carolina were allocated at 21.3-percent and 27.4-percent, respectively. New York's commercial fishermen and women and seafood dealers have suffered under this low allocation since the 1990s, resulting in closures and daily trip limits of 50-70 pounds in 2017, 2018, and 2019 for most of the year, while boats from other states are fishing next to New York boats with trip limits of several thousand pounds.