It was a small turnout of commercial fishermen who did show up to room 239, with roughly 12 people in the audience, two being women who represented a commercial fishing business sitting amongst us.
NYS Director Jim Gilmore along with fishery consultant (was the Director of Maine Fisheries as well as a past ASMFC Chair) George LaPointe moderated the discussion and public comment session, and I must admit it was well coordinated on the numerous topics that were gone over as well as a professional and thoughtful decorum maintained throughout the whole meeting.
Let me first toss these numbers out that was provided by Willie 'Mars' based upon info sent to him by the Chief John Maniscalco as it concerns NYS FFL holders and VTR reported 'TAUTOG' landings in 2016 (latest complied data) Many fishermen on Long Island have felt that this particular fishery has the largest number of participants during the calendar year.
2016 - Total # NYS FFL issued '929' to tautog landings:
675 ----- NYS FFL claimed ZERO LANDINGS
146 ----- NYS FFL reported LESS THAN 200 lbs
64 ------- NYS FFL reported between 200 - 1000 lbs in landings
44 ------- NYS FFL reported over 1000 lbs in blackfish landings
Yes let that sink in for a moment as far as what many may have thought about LEGAL NYS FFL participants as far as reported blackfish landings made in the once Empire State.
It brings us to what seems was the main topic of contention.... 'latent' or what some will say "dead" licenses, where fishermen renew then neither have either reported landings in a particular fishery or in ANY fishery...and I emphasized the "ANY" because the number here as reported by Director Gilmore and fishery consultant LaPointe is:
- Between 200 to 300 NYS FFL with no landings over/within the past 3 - 5 yrs (it did come across that a large amount of NYS FFL holders have 5 yrs of no landings)
Again I will mention that I am jumping ahead of what transpired earlier in the meeting, but the LATENT LICENSE issue seems to be at the forefront of:
- Why, as one commercial fishermen asked is the NYS DEC continuing to issue a NYS FFL to those who do not report landings (NOTE: one reason mentioned by both an audience member, Director Gilmore and George L. is that these fishermen "hold on" since they believe they will eventually surrender their license through a future 'buyout'.... then mentioned, "DO NOT COUNT ON THIS."
- Apprenticeship (educational commercial fisheries program run by Kingsboro / Stony Brook college and earning a degree) and young people (deckhands) becoming NYS FFL holders as so far as the latent license reduction then creating a new pool of available NYS FFL for this group of fishermen.
- A sidebar note on re-allocating latent licenses to incoming fishermen which was repeated throughout this discussion in that the current 'horrendously' low allocation to NYS - thus quota on and in particular to: striped bass, summer flounder and sea bass, "cannot currently support any upward increase in landings - as these landings would now rise from zero, and would result in even shorter open periods throughout the year."
- It was also mentioned that any TRANSFER program of NYS FFLs (an opening of personal licenses for sale) with no reported landings - to fishermen who would purchase any available license, would also result in zero landings rising to "?????" levels in reported landings... and we repeat once again to the implication to even smaller day trip quotas to maintain any semblance to a few weeks of an open quarter/period.
In further "cooking with gas on this topic," and please folks do not go DEFCON 1 here, Director Gilmore when asked on what the number (in theory) would be to level the number of NYS FFL holders to the available quota......
- 50% reduction from the current number of NYS FFL that are issued each year
As Director Gilmore noted, "due to the current low allocation to NYS in a number of fisheries, MORE FISHERMEN FISHING will result in LESS FISH AVAILABLE to those fishermen." Essentially it comes down to a numbers game of "sizing the NYS commercial fishing industry to the current quota available."
This thought hung in the room as Director Gilmore and fishery consultant LaPointe spoke about what happened with the Maine lobster industry to licenses available...."who do we protect?"
Here Director Gilmore then discussed the issue of and within the tricky tropic, "who is a commercial fishermen and who do we now protect?"
- Core fishermen (full time, all income derived from commercial fishing
- Those who commercially fish 'full time' but have other income (pensions and/or other job(s))
- Part time commercial fishermen whose impact on landings "may be small" for, and to a number of fisheries
- Those who have "had/held" a NYS FFL for multiple decades yet now work in the for-hire industry
Here my public comment was on the last point of those for-hire industry party and charter boat captains who have had a NYS FFL from the 1980's and early 1990's who transitioned from commercial fishing to:
- full time for-hire party & charter
- part time for-hire, and has another job unrelated to fishing
Here this group may have 25 - 30 years in the fishing industry, but have little or no reported VTR landings to reach a minimum threshold (if set) to re-qualify for a NYS FFL in the following year.
In trying to keep this brief, other issues 'skimmed' over:
- HISTORY: those who worked as a deckhand on commercial vessels - Can a system be put in place that the captains history be used as a 'landings credit' for them to obtain a license?
- EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION OF QUOTA by GEAR TYPE: dividing quota "equally" amongst gear types (draggger / potter / handgear / net-fixed-cast) which has a host of problems on the definition of 'equal' based upon historical landings and possibly prolonging open quarters (this was glanced over in the discussion and should be a side issue to be debated over at another time)
- DISTRIBUTION OF LICENSES THROUGHOUT THE MARINE DISTRICT: which came up about NYS FFL skewing and more so, gravitating to fishermen on the east end of Long Island, in particular Montauk. Essentially NYS FFL holders to the west lessening in contrast to the number of NYS FFL to the east end of Long Island increasing.
- MONTAUK: It does seem as discussed during this and previously commercial fishing meetings, that Montauk fishermen heavily influence what 'happens' (to put it bluntly) as far as the quota distribution and other sub-topics (I am just reporting and not being subjective here as this came up a few times).
Other thoughts that were put out during the free and open public comment session:
- Means testing as a way of determining in reported landings for obtaining a NYS FFL in future years
- Balancing the number of NYS FFL available to low quotas / landing limits
- Self interest of ANY NYS FFL holder who speaks in swaying the discussion, depending on either their gear type and status as a full or part time fishermen
- Issue of offshore/trip boats vs inshore/day boats as well as full time vs part time fishermen
- Increasing NYS FFL fees to deter those who do not work their license to just surrender them (though Willie M. did point out about the cost of the NYS Landing Lic. fee of 500 dollars did not deter fishermen from buying one to fish upon)
- Enforcement issue (bought up by enforcement who was in the audience) of out of state vessels working within the confines of NY waters, yet only hauling back once outside NYS territorial boundary
- Upgrading the licensing and information system in NYS to increase data accuracy, real time landings and tracking information (Director Gilmore did mention they have 800k now available for a team of NYS IT people to come in for this project)
Captain Paul Risi was in the audience and laid out a number of excellent bullet points about the NYS FFL with his main discussion on the future of the NYS commercial fishing industry and having fishermen come up through a documented education program where a young person learns from the bottom up working in the commercial fishing industry as well as earning an accredited state issued degree.
He also mentioned that in contrast to Director Gilmore and his theoretical 50% reduction in available NYS FFL's, that a more practical reduction would be a start of a 20% baseline reduction (example, 1000 NYS FFL available - 200 mandated to be removed the following year in latent licenses with no reported landings, thus 800 NYS FFL in the upcoming year). What would be done with these NYS FFL.... we can all speculate "what next" to either re-issue to new incoming commercial fishermen with stipulations (example with a tier system on landings), or retire them out of the fishery until such time as quotas for a number of fisheries are substantially increased in the coming years.
I do believe (now being subjective here) that this has to be put on the table going forward as the commercial fishing industry is aging out as far as the majority of working participants being 50 years or older. As fishery consultant LaPointe pointed out that all too many in the 60 year old range, "still remain with full-time direct involvement in commercial fishing," and this is not a NY commercial fishing industry issue but a northeast (especially groundfish fleet) as well as a coastal commercial fishing industry issue.
The licensing issue here then comes right back to those that have latent licenses which will not be re-issued NOW going to those who will work and produce landings...and we then have the whole "dog chasing its tail" discussion on what then happens to the number of license working to the low quotas available. Do we then go to a multi-tier NYS FFL licensing system for full and part time commercial fishermen, and what quotas they can land fish upon?
In wrapping this up, it was noted that this scoping process will move along at a very fast pace which some who have been involved within for many years will view as "troubling." Director Gilmore noted he has been the NYS DEC boss (Director) for 11 years and many of the issues within the commercial fishing industry as far as the framework of licensing/fees, was done before he became director.
The problem has been noted and discussed at MRAC meetings as the "kicking the can down the road" with fishery consultant LaPointe noting during the ppt. discussion that some outline for a framework for the future NYS FFL will be put forward for final public discussion in October and November. At that point it will then be presented at the end of this calendar year to state legislators LaValle and Thiele for a bill going forward in 2019. I do hope what many of you who have a stake in commercial fishing, thus holding a NYS FFL realize what this may mean to YOUR future in the NYS commercial fishing industry.
Previous to this first meeting, there were only six scheduled by the NYS DEC, but that has been changed and upgraded to 10 to 11 with one now in the Bronx and others added for fishermen in Montauk and other east end ports in order for fishermen to attend.
I understand this is a good amount of information to digest but I do believe there is this lingering question with the NYS FFL and the incentive for anyone to remain, sell out/retire or become a commercial fishermen in NYS. Ask yourself, "what is the incentive at this point in time especially as this may come down to something akin to a zero-sum legislative bill with possible landing and or income thresholds to now meet and/or maintain, or the/YOUR - NYS FFL no longer being renewed?"
I hope I did not muddy-up the waters for the upcoming meetings, one tonight at the NYS DEC Bunker in East Seatucket. Director Gilmore did note a few times that EVERYONE is welcome to attend any or all of the upcoming meetings to hear other commercial fisherman and their "concerns and point of view" and/or to put forward other personal comments.
Finally, thanks to MAFMC Councilor Tony DiLernia who not only attended, but provided input on a number of topics as well as coordinated the set up the location at Kingsboro College for this session for fishermen within the Sheepshead Bay fishing community. Tony has helped in making Kingsboro a location for fishermen to gather for these fishery meetings over the years (ie: summer flounder scoping hearing, NJ pots on the reef issue, to name a few) and that has been a big help in making these meetings convenient for the fishermen in the west end of the NYS Marine District.
A thank you to Tom Panzone from the NYS DEC Communication Services Dept, who passed along these pics to me a few moments ago with this message:
It was a pleasure to have met and spoken with you last night at the meeting. As per your request, here is a photo or three of the event. Thank you and your fellow commercial fishermen for attending our meeting."
Also thanks to George LaPointe who can be reached at 207-557-4970 or at the email address provided in the NYS DEC release for public comments.
In closing, I understand that this has been an extremely troubling issue for NYS commercial fishermen, but this meeting was handled very professionally by both Director Gilmore and fishery consultant George LaPointe, with as much time given for a very open discussion. I do hope many others will attend and leave their impression / comments on what transpired at the upcoming meetings held across Long Island and NYC.
Steve EC Newellman