Zeldin: Long Island fishermen in real need of relief
On Long Island, so much of our economy and way of life are connected to the water around us. Fishing is a treasured part of our identities as Long Islanders. Yet today, the current flaws in the management of our fisheries isn’t just raising costs for commercial fishermen and charter boat captains- it also hurts all the small businesses in the coastal economy, including restaurants, bait & tackle shops, hotels, and gas stations. Quite candidly, it is also making this pastime just nowhere near as much fun as it used to be either. As the Representative for New York’s First Congressional District, which is almost entirely surrounded by water, I am committed to supporting our fishermen and ensuring this tradition is preserved for generations to come.
The current management of our fisheries has created a web of unnecessary restrictions on our local anglers. For example, just recently, regulators gave final approval to a confusing set of requirements that call for a one inch difference in the size limit for fluke, 18 inches for New Jersey anglers, but 19 inches for New York. There is also a proposed regulation that would create two separate sets of rules for blackfish, one for the North Shore, and one for the South Shore. Current rules in our state also limit anglers to only one striped bass and weakfish per day. A rule like this is very damaging to the fishing industry. Many people just aren’t going to spend all the money it costs to go out on a charter boat if they can only catch and keep one fish.
Using flawed, outdated data to justify that bad rule makes even less sense. New York representatives on regional councils have to do much more to fight for our fishermen because we continue to get rolled at the table by other coastal states that take a much more proactive role within these councils, getting better quotas for their states while New York anglers do not get their fair share.
In February, I reintroduced my legislation from the 114th Congress, the Local Fishing Access Act (H.R. 1195). This bill will provide Long Island anglers with relief from confusing and burdensome regulations, by reforming the federal law that bans striped bass fishing in the Block Island transit zone, which are federal waters between Montauk, New York, and Block Island, R.I. Striped bass fishing has been banned in these waters since 1990, and yet commercial and recreational fishing is allowed for dozens of other species. Passage of this legislation will allow Long Island’s fishermen to once again enjoy striped bass fishing off the coast of Montauk, both commercially and recreationally.
In addition, H.R. 244, legislation which was recently passed by Congress and signed by the President, includes $72.5 million for the National Sea Grant College Program. This important program works with local oyster growers, fishermen, watermen, and other businesses in the coastal economy to grow and sustain their business models, connecting them to local resources to share best practices, and helping them navigate a complex patchwork of state and federal coastal zone management regulations through technical assistance.
We must also support our shellfish industry, a historic and rapidly growing industry on Long Island. Blue Point oysters, which originated in the Great South Bay, are now a highly sought after, world famous commodity, and the oyster trade has long been a prominent feature of our district’s economy and heritage. That is why, as part of the Congressional Shellfish Caucus, I’ve joined my bipartisan colleagues in pushing the Food and Drug Administration to end the impasse over European Union and United States trade negotiations over the import and export of oysters. Long Island’s oyster farmers need access to markets and restaurants in Europe to grow their businesses. Improving water quality is also absolutely paramount in this effort as well.
There remains much more that can be done to reinvigorate fishing and shellfish farming. Saltwater fishing is a cherished part of our heritage, and as members of an island community, it is so important that we never let this important aspect of our culture and economy fade away. A single act of Congress cannot resolve all of these challenges, but progress must be pursued in any available direction. We were raised to enjoy the bounties of these waters, and now, we have the pleasure of raising our families here as well. Tens of thousands of residents on Long Island and in surrounding areas utilize this unique resource and need our help.
Congressman Zeldin represents the First Congressional District of New York, and serves on the House Financial Services and Foreign Affairs Committees.