09/15/2007 - Of all the ingredients of a successful summertime party-boat fishing trip in the Northeast — beer, ice, sunscreen and fluke as big as doormats — only one comes in limited supplies. Like many other species, fluke have been overfished for decades. A serious test of whether the federal government can finally change that, and protect other species as well, is at hand.
Last year Congress revised the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the basic law regulating fishing in national waters, to give it sharper teeth. Although catch limits for vulnerable species have been in place for years, they are too generous and are routinely exceeded. The revised law gives scientists a much greater say in establishing firm catch limits to ensure that overfished species recover within a finite period, generally 10 years.
Seven years into its recovery plan, the fluke population is only about halfway to the goal of 197 million pounds set for 2013. Fishery managers must now find a way to make up tens of millions of pounds of fluke in about five years. That means much lower quotas, and acute pain in the fishing industry.
A scientific panel of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, one of the regional councils that manage fishing in federal waters, concluded in July that the 2008 fluke quota would have to be about 12 million pounds to give the species a decent shot at recovering on schedule. The council is instead endorsing a quota of nearly 16 million pounds, trying to balance the fate of the fluke with the economic needs of those who catch them.
View full editorial on The New York Times' site—Fluke on the Brink.