Sunday, December 13, 2015


If you’ve been involved in fisheries management very long, you’ve gotten used to politicians proposing dumb things at the behest of various constituent groups. 

For the past year or two, I figured that H.R. 3094, which would strip the National Marine Fisheries Service of authority to manage red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico and hand all management responsibilities over to the states, was clearly leading the idiots’ parade.

However, somehow one bill slipped past me this summer, even though it was proposed by a local congressman, and would affect an important fishery right here where I live on Long Island.  And when it comes to stupid, the local bill is head and shoulders above any of the proposed red snapper legislation.

The bill in question is H.R. 3070, introduced on July 15 of this year by Representative Lee Zeldin, a freshman Republican congressman who represents New York’s 1st Congressional District, which includes the port of Montauk along with the rest of Long Island’s East End.

Representative Zeldin entitled the bill the “EEZ Clarification Act” and claims that its purpose is

“To clarify that for purposes of all Federal laws governing marine fisheries management, the landward boundary of the exclusive economic zone between areas south of Montauk, New York and Point Judith, Rhode Island, and for other purposes.
As far as I can tell, the landward boundary of the EEZ south of New York and Rhode Island is already pretty clear; it’s a line three miles offshore, which is sharply delineated on both the charts prepared by NOAA and on every electronic chart that a mariner can plug into his or her GPS.  There’s not a lot of room for confusion.

However, there is room for discontent, because the waters off Block Island are often filled with striped bass, and striped bass may not be fished for, nor even possessed, in the EEZ.  And Block Island is more than six miles from the nearest landmass, meaning that it is surrounded by federal waters.

Originally, that made it impossible for fishermen—and particularly Montauk charter and party boats—sailing from off-island ports to bring back striped bass caught off Block Island.  NMFS long ago acknowledged the problem, and created a “transit zone” that permitted vessels to return to port with bass caught in the state waters surrounding the island.

However, that wasn’t enough for charter boats sailing out of Montauk, which wanted to be able to fish in federal waters as well.  Their plight wasn’t really any different from that of their counterparts in Massachusetts, Virginia or North Carolina, all of whom lost access to areas that they once fished in the EEZ.  Even so, the Montauk charter boats have long sought federal legislation that would give them their way.

The latest expression of that effort came on December 7, when the House Natural Resources Committee held a field hearing in Riverhead, here on Long Island.  There, Captain Joe McBride, as Legislative Representative for the Montauk Boatmen and Captains Association, requested that Congress adopt H.R. 3070 which, by changing the boundaries of the EEZ, would allow the Montauk boats to fish in waters currently closed to striped bass angling.

“We have a long standing problem with the Transit Zone between Block Island, RI and Montauk Point, NY, and between Block Island and Point Judith, RI.   The unintended consequences of this restriction is that New York State and Rhode Island have lost over 60% of their historical striped bass fishing areas in the Transit Zone.
“This anomaly exists only in this area because of the extended distance between Montauk Point, NY to Block Island, and is the same for Point Judith to Block Island.  The distance from Block Island to Montauk Point or Point Judith is approximately 15 miles.  We having [sic] been trying to for many years to correct this problem with no success…”
Congressman Zeldin, who attended the hearing, had already introduced H.R. 3070 in an effort to fix Capt. McBride’s problem.  In doing so, he would create far more problems that exist already.

That’s because H.R. 3070 would change the boundaries of the EEZ surrounding Block Island so that

“(1) the landward boundary of the exclusive economic zone between the area south of Montauk, New York, and the area south of Point Judith, Rhode Island, shall be considered to be a continuous line running
(A)   from a point running 3 miles south of the southernmost point of Montauk to a point 3 miles south of the southernmost point of Block Island, Rhode Island, and
(B)   from such point 3 miles south of the southernmost point of Block Island, Rhode Island, to a point 3 miles south of the southernmost point of Point Judith…”
If you look at a chart—which, apparently, Congressman Zeldin never did—you’ll note that the southernmost point on Block Island is Black Rock Point, which lies at approximately 41. 08.8’ N, 071. 35.6’ W.  Depending on whether you measure the southernmost point on Point Judith from the southernmost point of the mainland or the southernmost point on the jetty extending therefrom, you get either 41. 21.5’ N 071. 28.8’W or 41. 21.4’ N 071. 29.5’ W, respectively, for that.

A point 3 miles south of Black Rock Point, where Rep. Zeldin would anchor one leg of the EEZ, would be located at 41. 11.8 N 071. 35.6’ W.  That leg would run to a point 3 miles south of Point Judith, at either 41. 24.5’ N 071. 28.8’ W or 41. 24.4’ N 071. 29.5’ W.

If you then take a ruler and draw a line from the point 3 miles south of Black Rock Point to either of the points 3 miles south of Point Judith, you’ll find that Rep. Zeldin would have the EEZ run straight through Block Island, cutting off the southeast corner from roughly Mohegan Bluffs to somewhere just south of Old Harbor.

Yes, if Rep. Zeldin got his way, a surfcaster standing with his boots dry on shore, who casts a plug toward the rocks off Southeast Point, would be illegally fishing for stripers in the EEZ!

But that’s probably the sort of legislation that we can expect from a congressman who supports H.R. 1335, a bill that would tear the heart out of the most successful fisheries law in the world.  Or of someone who, as a state legislator, was proud of the fact that he repealed New York’s salt water fishing license, leaving the state’s fisheries regulators without enough money to do their jobs.

As I said when I began, I’ve been around fisheries politics long enough that there is little left to surprise me.

But sometimes, something does.

Such as a federal legislator who say that the finest fisheries conservation and management law ever written was “arbitrary”—and then arbitrarily draws lines in the ocean, without first consulting a chart.

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