With diesel fuel north of $6 this summer season, it will be challenging for the 100 or so Federally licensed commercial fishermen stationed in Montauk. After a phenomenally challenging two-year period that included a crashed market the two years before, the winter 2022 season was promising. The previous two-year problems were due to east end and NYC fish-oriented restaurants shutting down due to the Covid pandemic. Now the wild card is both high fuel prices and the uncertainty of the federal fish quotas.
When anyone talks Montauk Commercial Fishing, “the go to” person is Bonnie Brady, Executive Director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association. She lives in Montauk and is the ultimate lightning rod for all issues pertaining to up to the moment commercial fishing issues. The issue at hand is: what will be effect of the new record high diesel fuel prices on the commercial fishing fleet? Ms. Brady said, “It’s becoming like a perfect storm. We have extremely high fuel prices, and we have to deal with the off-shore wind issue (wind turbines at sea), with cables coming in and (folks) dropping monitors without working with the fishermen, so now the fisherman has less area to safely fish. It’s scary; the next couple of months are going to be scary.”
Why scary? Ms. Brady responded, “Fuel is now over $6 for diesel, $6.40 up in New Bedford, Massachusetts. This is an industry that depends on being able to have fuel at a decent price.”
She explained the price of fish will be not be augmented because of the price of fuel; the price of fish is solely set on demand. She said, “That will mean less profit for the fisherman.”
With Montauk having 100 commercial fishing permits that are federal permits. Ms. Brady explained some of those are for guys that both commercial fish and also charter fish. Some are for just straight commercial boats of all kinds. She said, “Right now I think because we are still at the end of April, and considered the winter period, there are less boats fishing and the quotas are larger based on historical landings during that time of year.” So, things are OK.
In the past, Ms. Brady explained, the summertime has more participants in various fisheries. That is because not everyone has the kind of boat that can go offshore in the winter. She also explained, “If the fish aren’t there…then we will be forced into state-by-state quotas.” She went on to explain the conundrum of fluke. Off of Montauk fishermen are allowed a quota of 70 lbs. trip limit for fluke. Whereas, off Virginia the boats are allowed to catch 10,000 lbs. of fluke per trip!
Many times, Ms. Brady said, the fleet get licenses from different states to take advantage of the individual state quotas. Land their fish there and be profitable. However now with fuel, if you have a Virginia permit you have to land those fish there in Virginia. She explained, “The steam time to get there is like a day and a half. So, it’s a big difference at $3 dollars a gallon as opposed to over $6 a gallon. What will happen is we depend on the demand.” Bonnie Brady said, “If people want to help because the fuel price is crazy, buy local fish! Make sure the fish wherever you get it is local. The increase in demand will help our fishermen.”
Concerning the health of the fishing industry in Montauk, Ms. Brady said, “Luckily in Montauk we have some young guys. There is a section of guys who are older…but there are young guys getting in. When Covid hit there were younger guys who were looking for jobs and came out east to become fishermen. No one I know of hasn’t been able to go out because they couldn’t get decent crew.”
Bonnie Brady is married to Captain Dave Aripotch. His 64.5’ boat the Caitlin & Mairead is one of the leading commercial boats of the Montauk Fleet. Bonnie Brady proudly said, “My husband has been fishing for over 50 years.”