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Jul 27, 2010 5:59 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Senator Gillibrand visits Montauk in support of local fishing economy

Jul 27, 2010 5:59 PM

MONTAUK—A fishermen’s roundtable convened at Inlet Seafood Restaurant on Sunday, and sitting in the middle was the woman who promised to be their Congressional advocate.

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand attended the roundtable and took notes as each of the veteran Montauk fishermen, boat captains, and marina owners relayed the injustices they say they face, thanks to federal regulations. The senator mostly listened, asking questions when necessary and responding succinctly to each comment made that she would try to be a driving force behind the needed changes.

Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman and East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson also attended in support of local fishermen.

The roughly 20 men seated at the discussion, along with the woman who invited them there—Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association—explained to Ms. Gillibrand that quotas were too strict, and varied from state to state; catch limits were suffocating; and size limits were unnecessarily small. Conversation centered around the Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act of 2009, and a bill introduced by Senator Charles Schumer that would increase the 10-year timeline for rebuilding historically overfished species. The timeline, which is different for different species, and catch limits were set based on landing data collected in the 1980s, which the group says do not accurately represent fishing in New York State waters. Ms. Gillibrand said she could provide added pressure to see that bill passed.

Arnold Leo, a member of the East Hampton Town Baymen’s Association, said there is also a disconnect between the people collecting the data and the fishermen with firsthand experience. He said the federal statistics committee that is the sole body in charge of creating the quotas is made up entirely of “marine scientists with Ph.Ds.”

“They are extremely cautious about what conclusions they make,” he said. “They look at the data and they say there is too much uncertainty. How do you count all the fish in the sea without some uncertainty?”

Part of the problem, Ms. Brady explained, is that when the National Marine Fisheries Service created fishing quotas, it used a different data collection method in New York State than in other states, which doesn’t give an accurate picture of the fish species in New York waters. Because New York landings are counted by the number of boxes packed on the docks rather than the actual number of fish, New York fishermen were underrepresented in their share of the quota, she said.

Chuck Weimar, a commercial fisherman in Montauk, said he feels disenfranchised from lack of access to fish in his own waters.

“I’m subject to a quota because I’m from New York State,” he said, adding that out-of-state fishermen working around Montauk can pull in more of the local fish than he can. “Other states have quotas 10 times as high as ours.”

Ms. Brady said Suffolk County has awarded the East Hampton Town Fisheries Committee a $30,000 grant to try to re-create landing data in order to correct the inaccuracies. Erik Braun, a commercial fisherman and former NMFS agent, will be responsible for re-creating that data, which will be presented back to NMFS in hopes of correcting the current problems. Ms. Brady said that if NMFS does not accept the data, it would be up to the Attorney General’s office to make a case for New York fishermen. Ms. Gillibrand said she would speak with the attorney general 
and create a working group to keep the issue on the front burner.

“I will talk to the attorney general about getting ready to do this work,” she said. “Let’s assess who our team is and how we are going to do this. We need to have the players ready.”

Ms. Brady said moving forward, there needs to be more of a partnership between fishermen and scientists in the industry.

“The professionalism of these guys has been marginalized,” she said. “When you’re part of academia you’re always right. When you spend 30 years on the water, that knowledge is marginalized.”

Ms. Gillibrand said she was willing to start working to correct the issues immediately. Ms. Brady warned her she was getting into a “mud-slinging battle.”

“We won’t win every battle but we have to fight every battle,” Ms. Gillibrand said. “I care deeply about your industry and about your families.”

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it will be kind of hard for her to fight for you when she is sitting at home after she gets bounced in November.
By fishy (90), East Hampton on Jul 28, 10 2:52 PM
I have to agree that very little can beat "boots on the ground" knowledge.

You can read books until your eyes are shot, but it means nothing if it has never been applied in the real world.

To discount the validity of someone's knowledge just because they haven't a "piece of pigskin", surpasses idiotic.
By Mr. Z (10417), North Sea on Jul 28, 10 4:18 PM
1 member liked this comment
Wha? She is widely considered the favorite to win in November. Despite her relatively lowname recognition, esp. compared to Schumer, far fewer people can name either of the two leading republicans running in the Sept. primary to challenge her.
By zaz (194), East Hampton on Jul 28, 10 11:15 PM
1 member liked this comment
I wonder, did she ask Wilkinson why he tried to put the fishermen out of business by selling the docks?
By soggy pants (6), montauk on Jul 29, 10 10:09 AM
They call fishermen's testimony about what they see in their nets unscientific "anecdotal evidence" and using a provision in the Fisheries act they have convinced the courts that they can only go by "the best availible science" -- "science" being data collected by scientists. But they know the data is faulty and in some cases completely wrong -- as with the 10 years of "Trawlgate" when they had been informed by experts that the net on their one data collecting ship --aptly named "Albatross" - was ...more
By snarko77 (49), Brookhaven on Jul 29, 10 5:23 PM
2 members liked this comment
National Marine Fisheries service. Destroying America's Fishing Families since 1973.

Garbage in, garbage out. They're using bad science to come up with new regulations.
By Draggerman (815), Southampton on Aug 1, 10 2:53 PM
Senator Gillibrand has done a FANTASTIC job for New York and she is a shoe in for reelection! Love her.
By progressnow (556), sag harbor on Aug 2, 10 2:06 PM
1 member liked this comment
I want to know if she would have made the trip to montauk if these discussions were held in January.
By GoldenBoy (332), EastEnd on Aug 3, 10 3:02 PM
Oh, come on.
By peoplefirst (787), Southampton on Aug 3, 10 6:16 PM
Hampton Bays Rotary, Autumn Evening by the Sea, Joyce Oakland, Oaklands Restaurant