Fishermen disagree with bleak fluke stock assessment

“Fluke are the most assessed species on the East Coast,” says Greg DiDomenico, executive director Garden State Seafood Association. “All because of politics.”

Fluke had a full benchmark assessment in 2013, which was followed by stock updates in 2015 and 2016. “We had significant quota cuts with both these updates, and more may be coming,” says DiDomenico.

According to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, the agencies responsible for fluke management, the overall trend of fluke stock is not looking good.

“We have not seen a strong recruitment event in recent years, and the biomass estimates are trending downward,” says Kirby Rootes-Murdy, senior FMP coordinator for the Atlantic states commission.

If the trend continues and the resource falls below the spawning stock biomass threshold, fluke will be considered overfished, and a whole new rebuilding plan will commence.

The coastwide commercial fluke quota from the Carolinas to Maine has been set at 5.66 million pounds for 2017. In 2011 it was 17 million, and in 1984 the fleet landed 37.8 million. The top three fluke ports for landings are Beaufort, N.C., Point Judith, R.I., and Hampton, Va. Point Judith fisherman Jimmy Jordan has fluke permits in all three states and follows the fluke from east of Rhode Island to the south.

This round of cuts is “completely unnecessary,” he says. “There is no reason to be doing what they’re doing. They say there are no small fish, but the surveys are looking in the wrong places. This is a science and management problem, not a stock problem. The fluke fishing is good right now.”

Because of the low landings, fluke have become a high-price, low-volume fishery. Many fishermen handle their catch with the high-end sushi market in mind: bleed the larger fish, lay the fish white side up in totes of slushed ice.

Ex-vessel summer prices are $6.50 to $7 for jumbos; large around $6; and mediums in the $4 range. Winter prices held strong in 2017 as well.

About the author

John Lee works on a pilot boat, writes and takes photographs. He lives in Rhode Island.

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