- Suffolk Executive Steve Levy
denounced an up to 75 percent restriction on lobster catches proposed by the Atlantic
State Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). Levy noted the restriction would catastrophically affect the historic Long Island lobster industry, and yet has no guarantee of yielding results. Levy instead proposed a series of common-sense measures to boost the lobster population and protect Long Island's great marine heritage.
"A Draconian reduction on lobster fishing is not something the Long Island lobsterman community is prepared to accept," said Levy. "The consequence of such a massive restriction has the potential to obliterate the Long Island lobster industry, and, ironically, with alternative measures proven and available an up to 75 percent catch restriction is far too extreme."
The ASMFC recently tabled a five-year moratorium on lobster fisheries in the southern New England waters region (points south of Cape Code to North Carolina), including the Long Island Sound. The Commission has delayed its decision on the ban until the fall, when it will receive a study showing how the lobster population would react to a 50 percent reduction in harvesting, a 75 percent reduction, or maintaining the status quo, which is no moratorium at all.
"The lobster moratorium may have been tabled, but the crisis continues," said Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "A long-term solution is needed. Government's role should be to help the lobstermen succeed, not to put them out of business. A moratorium doesn't get at the root cause of the problem, it simply creates a facade of tackling this complicated issue."
The lobstermen community vehemently opposes the notion that over harvesting is the root cause of population decline, and argues that severe limits on lobster fisheries will not address the underlying environmental causes. Many biologists attribute lobster decline largely to a change in oceanic conditions and not over-harvest by the lobstermen community.
Consider Lobster V-Notch Program
Levy urged the ASMFC to work with New York State to examine the Lobster V-Notch program executed in the northern Long Island Sound by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
The Lobster V-Notch program requires participating lobstermen who catch a female lobster three inches or more in length to notch the lobsters using a clipper that makes a "V," thus the name. Marking the female lobster with a "V" and releasing it allows the female to mature and lay batches of eggs, up to 10,000 eggs per batch, and thus replenish the lobster population.
In just one year, according to the Connecticut DEP, fisherman from Connecticut and New York returned the equivalent of more than 58,000 mature female lobsters to the Sound between December 2007 and July 2008. This represents more than 100 percent of the goal established for the first year of the program as agreed on by the ASMF in 2006.
Levy, Lobstermen Call For New Data Observation
Lobstermen repeatedly dispute the data findings of the ASMFC and continue to offer biologist the opportunity to collect data and observe on the boats of experienced lobstermen. Suffolk Executive Levy has volunteered to facilitate an observation by ASMFC biologists with local lobstermen, the Suffolk County Department of Environment and Energy, and the Suffolk County Commercial and Recreational Fishing Task Force.
"All these lobstermen and women are saying is 'let me show you,' and considering the draconian measures here that is not an unreasonable accommodation to make," said Levy. "The proposed 75 percent restriction on lobster harvesting must be a last resort, not a first foot forward."
No Draconian Cuts, Grandfather Lobster Permits
Levy noted that the ASMFC proposed lobster restriction has the capacity to decimate the entire Long Island lobster industry. Levy called for the commission to grandfather-in existing lobster permits, and pointed to the South Shore Estuary Preservation program as a model for species management that the ASMFC to consider.
The South Shore Estuary Preservation program has been hailed by leading environmentalists as means to managing the species without destroying an historic pastime. A similar program for lobster permits would allow established lobsterman to sustain existing harvesting operations, and not be subject to a 50 percent or 75 precent harvest reduction, while state and federal agencies evaluate long-term sustainability and repopulation programs, such as the northern L.I. Sound "V-Notch" program.