House of Representatives Holds Committee Hearing on Rep. Zeldin’s Bill for Long Island Fishermen
Washington, DC – On Tuesday, February 2, 2016, the House Natural Resources Committee hosted a hearing of the Subcommittee on Water, Power, and Oceans regarding legislation that Congressman Lee Zeldin (R, NY-1) introduced in the House, the EEZ Clarification Act (HR 3070), to clarify federal laws governing marine fisheries management in the exclusive economic zone between Montauk, New York, and Block Island, Rhode Island.
Between New York State waters, which end three miles off of Montauk Point, New York, and the Rhode Island boundary, which begins three miles off of Block Island, there is a small area of federally controlled water that is considered part of the “Exclusive Economic Zone,” or EEZ. The EEZ, which extends up to 200 miles from the coast, are waters patrolled by the Coast Guard, where the United States has exclusive jurisdiction over fisheries and other natural resources. Striped bass fishing has been banned in the EEZ since 1990, which has caused major confusion and arbitrary punishment of the region’s fishermen as they pass from state waters, where striped bass fishing is legal, into federal waters, where striped bass fishing is in violation of the law.
In an effort to address this issue, federal regulations were set to create a special “transit zone” where fishermen are able to possess striped bass that were caught in state waters while they travel through the small area of federal waters in the EEZ. Though the transit zone was meant to help, some fishermen have been unable to prove that their stripers were legally caught outside of the EEZ, and therefore have been boarded or fined by state and federal authorities for possessing these fish. Additionally, the transit zone is difficult for authorities to police because people may be fishing for a different, permitted species, but may have striped bass on board from a different area.
Congressman Zeldin recently co-hosted a House Natural Resources Committee field hearing in Riverhead, NY, with Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT). The hearing, which was titled, “Restoring Atlantic Fisheries and Protecting the Regional Seafood Economy,” was held on December 7, 2015 to discuss important local fishing issues. Congressman Zeldin’s EEZ Clarification Act was discussed and Chairman Bishop was able to hear first-hand the concerns of those on Long Island who rely upon fishing as an occupation and as a way of life.
Congressman Zeldin’s EEZ Clarification Act would eliminate the regulatory confusion hurting the hardworking, responsible men and women of the region’s struggling fishing communities, while freeing up Coast Guard and other law enforcement resources that are diverted from more critical missions, such as national security and vessel safety.
Congressman Zeldin attended the hearing and spoke about the importance of passing his bill. Captain Joe McBride, the Legislative Representative of Montauk Boatmen & Captains Association (MBCA) attended the hearing as well to speak firsthand about the issue Long Island fishermen face.
You can watch the hearing here.
Congressman Zeldin said, “One of the most pressing issues faced by Long Island fishermen is the urgent need to clarify the boundary of the Exclusive Economic Zone, or EEZ, between Montauk Point and Block Island. The unique geography of our region means that making the 15 mile journey by boat from Montauk Point to Block Island requires passing through a small strip of waters considered to be part of the EEZ. For recreational anglers or charter boat captains, this shift in jurisdiction can mean the difference between a nice day on the water and committing a federal offense. Law-abiding, responsible fishermen should not be punished for doing their jobs, and since this is a state and local waterway, it should be controlled locally, not federally. The EEZ clarification will provide regulatory relief and more certainty to our region’s fishermen, while restoring local control to a critical fishery that must be properly managed and preserved for future generations. H.R. 3070 is common sense legislation that offers a simple local solution to a unique local issue. The dedicated charter boat captains, recreational anglers, and the tens of thousands of Long Islanders who depend upon the coastal economy of the East End deserve no less.”
Natural Resources Committee Chairman, Congressman Rob Bishop, said, “This bill is the result of a grassroots effort from Long Island’s fishermen. I commend Congressman Zeldin for listening and working with those who have the most at stake in utilizing and protecting this fishery. We look forward to passing this bill to help Long Island’s fishing communities.”
House Water, Power and Oceans Subcommittee Chairman, Congressman John Fleming, said, “H.R. 3070 corrects a unique navigational issue in Block Island Sound, off the coasts of Long Island and Rhode Island. As we heard at the hearing, this small strip of federally controlled waters poses regulatory confusion for fishermen who are trying to abide by both state and federal fisheries laws but are challenged by navigational boundaries that are not visually apparent around Block Island. Mr. Zeldin’s bipartisan legislation makes a small adjustment to the federal / state water boundaries to resolve this fisheries management issue.”
House Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans Vice-Chairman, Congressman Paul Gosar, said, “H.R. 3070, attempts to reduce regulatory confusion that may unintentionally make criminals out of law-abiding striped bass fishermen. A simple boundary change as outlined in the bill would help alleviate this problem. Testimony submitted against this legislation unfortunately appears apocalyptic and fearful of any change. Federal laws and regulations are not sacrosanct and must be updated when necessary. I commend Mr. Zeldin for his leadership on this issue. It’s my hope that we can resolve this matter and this bill is a much needed first step in this direction.”
Captain Joe McBride, Legislative Representative of Montauk Boatmen & Captains Association (MBCA) said, "The MBCA would like to thank Chairman John Fleming and Congressman Lee Zeldin for allowing us to present our issues to the Committee on Natural Resources. We appreciated Chairman Bishop and other members taking the time to come to Riverhead in December for a field hearing. We have a long standing problem with the Transit Zone between Block Island, RI and Montauk Point, NY, and between Block Island and Point Judith, RI. We have been trying for many years to correct this problem with no success. The impact of sport fishing on Long Island is very important to our economy, especially in Montauk. To correct this unintended problem we urge support for H.R. 3070, for other efforts at the federal level to improve access for New York's fishermen, and we thank Congressman Zeldin for his strong leadership on these issues."