A review and potential changes to the New York State marine fisheries licensing system will be the subject of a meeting at East Hampton Town Hall on Wednesday at 6 p.m.
Last month, the State Department of Environmental Conservation issued a draft report on a review of fisheries licensing, following meetings held last year in Montauk, Southampton, and elsewhere on Long Island and in New York City to solicit stakeholder input.
The draft report stresses the decline of fish stocks beginning in the 1980s and the federal and state regulations that followed, including quotas, allocations, seasonal restrictions, and trip limits. It says that “there are too many fishermen and too much fishing-related infrastructure used to harvest a relatively small amount of fish. New York must seek a means to bring the number of licensed fishermen in line with the amount of available resources.”
The state’s commercial food fishing license requires holders to demonstrate an average income of at least $15,000 from commercial fishing over three consecutive years. Commercial lobster permits are not issued, though those already holding a permit can renew it.
A leading concern expressed by stakeholders in last year’s meetings, the draft report states, was a desire for more flexible license transfer provisions. Limited entry permits are presently nontransferable, though holders can have their licenses reissued to immediate family members, and the recipient can designate another person if they choose not to accept the license. The D.E.C., the report states, must decide if licenses should become more freely transferable.
The town’s fisheries advisory committee “wants it to be fully transferable without the D.E.C.’s input,” Councilman David Lys, the committee’s liaison to the town board, said on Tuesday.
Latent licenses — those renewed annually but by holders reporting no fishing activity — were also a primary concern in last year’s meetings. According to the report, approximately one-third of existing commercial licenses fell into this category between 2011 and last year. That was “primarily due to people not reporting what they catch,” Bob Valenti, the advisory committee’s co-chairman, told the town board on Tuesday, “or fishermen who are too old or sick to fish but still renew licenses.”
Of 949 licenses issued last year, 322 were inactive, according to preliminary data. The D.E.C.’s draft report states that latent licenses have “the potential to put additional stress on New York’s commercial fisheries if they become active in the future.” Inactive license holders, though, also mean smaller allocations than necessary among those who are actively fishing.
Stakeholders also suggested a license buyout program, in which holders would be paid to relinquish their licenses. No funding source has been identified, the draft report states, though such a program could be one means of allowing new participants into fisheries. But “there is no guarantee that license holders would participate in a buyout program if such a program was implemented,” says the report. A number of those who spoke at the public meetings suggested that many latent license holders retain their licenses in the hope they will gain value through a buyout program or change in transfer options.
The report, prepared by George Lapointe, a consultant, concludes that the D.E.C. must reduce the number of limited-entry license holders “to a number that allows all participants to earn a fair income and not exceed the state allocations for quota-managed fisheries.” Or, as Mr. Valenti put it on Tuesday, “The general suspicion is the D.E.C. wants to reduce the number of New York State- licensed fishermen.” Just three new food fish licenses were issued to state residents last year, eight in 2017.
The draft report recommends that the license review process be revisited in five years to determine the impacts of any changes made to the licensing system, and to assess other potential future changes.
Wednesday’s meeting will follow one on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Bishop Malloy Recreational Center in Point Lookout.