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Aug 7, 2018 5:52 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Commercial Fisherman Plead With State Consultant For License System Overhaul

Danny Lester, Daniel Lester and Aaron Rozzi delivering a load of fish from their pound traps to Gosmans Seafood in Montauk this week. Both the senior Mr. Lester and Mr. Rozzi still lack some of the commercial fishing permits that would allow them to catch more fish despite working their entire adult lives in the industry.
Aug 7, 2018 12:46 PM

The young men who work the decks of Hank Lackner’s dragger, Jason & Danielle, spend up to three weeks at a time far over the horizon from their homes in Montauk, toiling in heat and high seas.

But none of that back-breaking time earns them any credit in the eye of New York State toward being able to get their own collection of commercial fishing licenses. That is because they are not the ones on record as having landed the thousands of pounds of fish that Montauk’s largest trawler brings ashore after each trip.

“My crew just spent 13 days at sea, working 20-hour days—these are true commercial fishermen,” Mr. Lackner told a consultant who has been hired by the state to craft new licensing guidelines at a public meeting held in Southampton last week. “They spend 200 days a year on my boat—they don’t have a lot of chances to get out. They shouldn’t be eliminated from this process.

“We don’t want them to go away. We have to figure out a way where the [landings of] trips they worked gets them some kind of credit for being on the boat.”

For years, young commercial fishermen have been stalled from setting out on their own by a state embargo on issuing “new” licenses, and by inflexible rules for transferring existing licenses from those who are leaving the industry to those trying to get in.

Arcane statutes about passing down a license from one generation to the next within the same family require that both individuals live in the same house. Only a handful of “corporate” licenses may be bought and sold. A few more—mostly those of fishermen who die and don’t have an immediate relative who wants them—are awarded through a lottery system about once a year.

But even entering the lottery requires a candidate to show that they already earn a substantial portion of their living from commercial fishing—which can be difficult to do without proof of the sale of state-regulated fish, which they don’t have when they work on another captain’s boat—and then to hope for good luck in the draw.

After years of pleas by fishermen and pressure from East End lawmakers, the State Department of Environmental Conservation has hired a consultant, George LaPointe, a veteran fisheries management specialist, to help find a sensible new way of managing its licenses.

Mr. LaPointe and officials from the DEC are hosting meetings with fishermen on the South Fork this month and next to collect input on how the process could be improved, and State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. told fishermen last week that he hopes to see new rules in place by the end of 2019.

“It is long overdue,” he said. “This is an industry that should be growing and New York is helping to promote.”

At the meeting in Southampton Town Hall on Thursday, August 2, fishermen told Mr. LaPointe that licenses ultimately need to be made easily transferable from one person to another, either through sale or simply handed over to the person of the holder’s choosing.

“This lottery thing … should be scrapped,” fisherman Richard LaRocca said. “There should be a list of eligible people who have reported their income and should be eligible to receive permits. That’s it.”

To Mr. LaRocca’s point, not just anyone should be able to get a commercial fishing license, the fishermen said. The first step must be to tighten the state’s definition of who qualifies as a commercial fisherman and then pare down the number of available licenses to prevent ever-tightening quotas from being carved into too many tiny slices.

With more than a third of all the state’s commercial licenses being wholly inactive or held by part-time fishermen, the potential for spreading allotted quotas too thin looms large.

“Suppose a part-time [fisherman] sells his license to someone who will be full-time—then the other full-time guys get less,” longtime East Hampton fishermen’s advocate Arnold Leo said.

Dan Lester, an East Hampton bayman, said that he often finds himself competing against people with full-time jobs in other industries who have acquired fishing licenses and take chunks of a limited resource, like bay scallops, leaving less for those who earn a living solely on the water.

“We need to knock the [number] of licenses down,” he said. “Define commercial fisherman. A fair share of the pie is a fair share—not every cop, fireman and electrician out there next to me catching the same amount of fish I am and taking away from the quota.”

Mr. Lackner and Hampton Bays fisherman Michael Baughs suggested allowing mates aboard a fishing boat to get some credit for their vessel’s landings, or that simply logging “days at sea” to prove they are working fishermen would be a way to allow young fishermen to earn their way into eligibility as commercial fishermen.

Allowing licenses to be sold would ultimately be a way to let aging fishermen cash out, the fishermen said, though some worried that the cost of licenses could get too high. Others said that if the criteria for getting them were tailored correctly, the costs would be reasonable, considering the modest amount of money fishermen stand to make in today’s highly regulated industry.

“There are not that many people who want to do this,” Mr. Lackner said, with a nod to one of the state’s most restrictive limits, on fluke, at just 50 pounds per boat, per trip. “There’s going to be a lot more licenses for sale at 50-pound trip limits than there are people who want to go fishing for a living.”

For those less concerned with getting cash for a license than with passing it down to a next generation in the family, lifting rules that say the recipient must be “domiciled” with the conveyor would help, some said. “I’ve got two uncles who are in their 80s, and I can’t get their fluke permits,” East Hampton bayman Dan Lester said. “I’m 43, I have kids—I’m not going to live with my uncle.”

East Hampton fisherman James Mangano said the state also needs to give boat owners the same rights it now gives to “corporate” license holders, allowing others to fish their boat when they are not aboard. “Right now, if I get sick and have to be in the hospital, my boat has to sit at the dock,” he said. “If I was a corporation, that boat could go fishing and I could pay my hospital bills.”

Mr. LaPointe, who is the former head of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, one of the three federal fisheries management councils that set quotas for East Coast fish species, said that drafting a set of rules that is fair and balanced and meets the requests of the fishermen will be an arduous task.

“This hasn’t been fixed for all this time, because it is a ball of yarn that has a lot knots in it,” Mr. LaPointe said. “Our job is to work out all the knots.”

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Many, many families support their family income fishing and scalloping over they years. It was a way of life on the east end. Opening houses in garages etc. My father in law had a opening house in his garage in Springs.
I worked for a utility [didn't pay a lot then] and gill netted and scalloped to pay my mortgage. Took vacation to do it, wife and I opened together.
The baymen are getting the shaft from the dec, but don't blame me.
By knitter (1854), Southampton on Aug 7, 18 10:54 AM
1 member liked this comment
The DEC is not on the side of our commercial fishermen, it is an out of control agency with no elected officials who would answer to the voters , we are the ones paying the bill and getting screwed over.
By bigfresh (4542), north sea on Aug 8, 18 6:30 AM
1 member liked this comment
You know there’s something wrong with the world when the ones who feed us are getting shafted and screwed over.
By toes in the water (881), southampton on Aug 8, 18 5:33 PM
1 member liked this comment
The DEC has been the enemy of commercial fishing for a long time.
By Gillnetter (105), Hampton Bays on Aug 11, 18 6:30 AM
1 member liked this comment
Fishermen, farmers and what next? The US fed the nation and other nations. We now rely on others to feed us. We are relying on other countries to feed us. Keep paying farmers not to grow...
Look where your food is coming from and give it a thought???
By knitter (1854), Southampton on Aug 12, 18 6:41 PM
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