The tide has finally turned. After more than a decade of steadily tightening restrictions on the ability of recreational fishermen to catch and keep fluke, we have gotten over the hump and see the first substantial loosening of regulations to allow fishermen to keep more fish.
If you haven’t heard, the state finally set the regulations for the 2012 fluke season this week and as anticipated the size limit dropped to 19.5 inches and the bag limit increased to four fish. The season will open on May 1 and run all the way through September 30, which is effectively the entire period of availability of fluke in our region.
The extra fish is a welcome bonus but what makes the biggest impact with this change is the cut to the minimum size limit. For the last few years, with minimum sizes at 21 inches or higher, fishermen have had to throw back literally hundreds of fluke that often just missed the minimum size. A 19-inch fluke is like a 5’11” tall man—it’s just how big most of them are, and with a limit in that range catching a limit of keepers should be a damn sight easier this year.
Which is good for the fish too. For the last two years a boatload of anglers could fish nearly a full day, catching numerous, sometimes dozens, of short fish before they found their three 21-inch fish. Those fish were often wounded, sometimes mortally. With the lower size, assuming limits will come quicker and fishermen will turn their attentions elsewhere, the number of fish that are injured or wasted should drop.
The dark cloud over all of this is that New York is still severely handicapped by the irrationally flawed system for apportioning of state-by-state quotas. It’s fairly widely accepted that fluke populations are stable and expanding and that quota levels coastwide should protect that stability and growth—theoretically allowing for a steady harvest in perpetuity. But each state’s allotment is still based on catch reporting from the late 1990s that gives New York a disproportionately small slice of the fluke pie (Mmmm...fluke pie...). We’re overjoyed at our new 19.5-inch minimum and four fish bag limit. Yeah, well Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Jersey anglers, many of whom are often fishing right next to New York fishermen, all have just 18-inch minimum sizes and bag limits of five, seven and eight fish, respectively. Personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with our new limits, it gives everyone ample opportunity to take home a big bag of fillets after a few hours on a party, charter or friend’s boat. But for fishermen fishing the same waters to be held to different standards is absurdly unfair. A coastwide quota—of, say, five fish at 19 inches—would be more fair and logical for everyone.
Of course, we will all have to wait with bated breath (and hooks) next winter to see how the scientists and statisticians calculate the results of this new freedom for fluke fishermen. It’s conceivable that New York or fishermen coastwide could overshoot our quota and we’d see another tightening of the screws. But I think we’ve turned the corner now and there are bright days on the horizon for fluke fishermen. Which is a good thing because the story is just the opposite for striped bass I’m afraid.
Applause for the East End Sportsmen’s Alliance, who pulled together a great little sporting expo in Amagansett this weekend. Some of the displays set up by the hunting guides were fantastic and there were some great deals to be had on fishing tackle—topped in my book by Mrs. Sam’s Tackle’s $5 Uncle Josh pork rind clearance. Turnout was good, if mostly local, and most of the vendors I talked to were more than pleased with the exposure and sales they drummed up. Here’s to hoping that the event will return next year and start to attract some more of the sort of outfitters that could draw fishermen and hunters from further away.
Get out there and get your fluke.
Catch ‘em up. See you out there.