Bad news and Good news.....
First the bad news:
I spoke to Alice Weber over at the DEC Marine Fisheries Unit in Setauket today. I was calling to verify the weakfish meeting schedule (April 18 @ 7pm at the Setauket office). While speaking to her I tried to get the details on the fluke regs for this year. She told me that it had not been decided yet and explained to me the problems and possibile concerns with going with some of the different options. She told me that the head boat and charter boat lobby was pushing for the smallest size limit with the highest daily limit (obiously). I explained that I felt the DEC was there to do what is best for the species, despite what the lobbies may want. She commended me on my idealism.
Ms. Weber explained the issues with reaching the target level set for the species comeback. She said that it is very obvious that the fluke have responded very well but the target has not yet been reached, so they are still managing it very strictly. It is a matter of either having many small cuts, or one big one if the species collapses again or the quota is over shot.
Since we were on the topic of species of concern and regulations, I asked why nothing had been done about the flounder collapse as of yet. She told me the current regulations were what were asked for by the recreational fisherman almost 10 years ago. I pointed out that the flounder were in trouble then and have gotten worse every year since. Ms. Weber pointed out that back then, the greater concern was on reducing the mortality rate of released fish. She said that goal has been met and far surpassed. She also said that, that is because not as many people are fishing for them any more.
I asked Ms. Weber about the commercial fishing of flounder, dragging and fykes (I was not familiar with fykes until this thread) She stated that the draggers are harvesting an offshore population of fish that has rebounded well. She also stated that fykes contribute only a small amount to the commercial catch and are therefore not much of an issue. I asked about the offshore population being the same population that migrates into the bays in the winter and she told me that they are beginning to beleive that there are different populations. An offshore population that is responding well and an inshore population that is struggling. They are also looking to the possibility of some natural causes for the decline of the inshore fish. She also told me that the dragger season closes for six months of the year through the summer.
So I asked about a by-catch issue with the summer fluke draggers catching flounder. She said that the gear restrictions on fluke draggers are designed to allow 50% of 14 inch fluke through. Therefore the flounder 14 inches and smaller should be able to pass through as well.
I also inquired about the roller gear used for tautog and sea bass. I had heard of a possible size reduction on rollers. Ms. Weber said the current gear has an 18 inch maximum size and there are no plans on reducing it. She also said that the commercial daily limit is only 25 tog and that not many are doing it. The greatest problem is from the JERSY boats fishing the Western reefs.
So here are a couple of questions that come to mind while writing this that I didn't think about while talking to her:
1) If the commercials are harvesting an offshore population, what the heck are those draggers catching right now only a mile or two off of the South Shore? We have all seen them this season. What other species are there to harvest there this time of year?
2) The fluke dragger nets are designed to release half of the fish 14 inches or less. That may work in an ideal situation, but along the South Shore, you can see the dragger fleet working like a train about a mile between each boat and slightly staggered. Those fish that have been released by one staggered group of draggers are just run over by the next sucession of draggers. So you have 50% of 50% of 50% and so on. But it is all legal.
Now for the good news:
Wal-Mart in Middle Island just got in some Storm Wild Eye shad in the 5" bunker color. He only had about a dozen left but there are more on the way. I was calling there sooooo much, that the sporting goods manager, John, finally contacted another store down South and is getting their stock. He only got in a small shipment today, but more are on the way!