From April 8 through 10, the Montauk Yacht Club will host a meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Marine Fishery Council, one of the nation’s eight bodies created in 1976 to oversee marine resources.
The Mid-Atlantic Council manages 12 species that include fluke (summer flounder), porgies (scup), striped bass, and tilefish, all important to Long Island fishermen. Montauk is homeport to New York’s most productive commercial and recreational fishing industries, businesses that pour many millions of dollars into the local economy each year.
For a few decades now, our local fisheries have been well represented by two Montauk women, Laurie Nolan, now a state delegate to the Mid-Atlantic Council who is active in Montauk’s tilefish fishery, and Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association. Both are expected to be on hand.
Fishermen, especially commercial fishermen, go about their businesses in the background of the more trendy and real estate-based notion of the Montauk and East End lifestyle. This is a bit strange, because from an economic standpoint, Montauk’s commercial industry — despite its many challenges — has kept pace, or nearly so, with landed business. Its future is uncertain, however.
We seem to be consumed of late by what the sea takes with its rising. We tend to lose sight of what it provides. The setting, in Montauk, for the upcoming council meeting, and its agenda, serve as a reminder.
Early on the first day of the meeting, a workshop presented by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will discuss offshore wind leasing, that is, the leasing of ocean bottom for the creation of offshore windmills. Fishermen have seen wind farms, located in prime fishing grounds, as a threat. Proponents say that the sustainable energy industry and fishing industry can get along. This workshop is guaranteed to generate a gale of hot wind.
In the afternoon of the first day, members of the council’s executive committee will discuss their position on the reauthorization of the Magnuson- Stevens Act, this country’s body of fishery management laws. Many in the fishing industry believe the act needs to be totally revamped in order to curtail waste generated by current management schemes.
Tuesday afternoon, council members will discuss the management of river herring and shad. Both species are vital as a food source for the fish that prey on them, as well as humans.
Butterfish and tilefish are on the April 9 agenda. Tilefish are especially important to the Montauk economy. Montauk fishermen pioneered the longline method of catching tilefish, a bottom dweller that lives far offshore. Montauk fishermen have also taken responsibility for managing the resource to sustainable levels. The council will adopt recommendations for 2015 through 2017 harvest levels during the meeting.
Sportfishermen call them porgies around here. Market fishermen call them scup. Whatever you call them, they are extremely important to the sport and commercial industries. Modifications to the council’s scup management plan will be discussed on the afternoon of April 9.
Laurie Nolan said on Tuesday that local fishermen should attend the scup meeting where tweaking of the southern gear-restricted area will be given a going over.
Between 4 and 5 p.m. on the 9th, “Who Fishes There?” — a study to identify areas important to specific fishing communities, species, fishing gears, and seasons — will be discussed. The aim is to establish a baseline of commercial fishing effort up and down the Atlantic Coast.
On the last day of the conference, managers will get into the thorny issue of bycatch reporting, that is, the tallying by fishermen of species caught while they are targeting other species. Mandatory reporting is seen as vital to obtaining an accurate picture of stock abundance.
Fishermen and managers will also tackle an even thornier issue on the last day of the conference, that being the “observer program,” a system of putting government spotters (paid for by the fishing industry) on board fishing boats to validate what fish are caught, how many are caught, how they are caught.
Fisheries management, the protection and utilization of critters that live unseen in their natural environment, is part science, part wizardry, and always frustrating to fishermen and managers alike. It is also vitally important to the East End’s economic well-being. Montauk welcomes the council meeting. Its full agenda can be found on the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Council website.