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Feb 23, 2015 3:49 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Bay Fishermen Say New Rules Are Needed

Feb 23, 2015 4:04 PM

As the East End’s bays lay dormant, smothered by winter ice, the men who earn a living gathering fish and shellfish with nets and rakes when the waters warm up say their traditional way of life requires changes in state and local fishing laws if they are to survive.

Those fishermen rely on centuries-old methods of fishing inside the bays, and do not venture to sea on large draggers in the winter months. To survive, they say, they must be able to keep more fish on the relatively few days they have opportunities to work the water. They also say adjustments to date restrictions to accommodate the fleeting window of opportunity for certain species, and a lifting of a long-standing state freeze on the issuance of new licenses are necessary for the inshore fishing industry to continue on for future generations.

State legislation addressing the issues could be coming soon, thanks to local representatives in Albany.

The nearly complete freezing-over of local bays might be a rarity, but the main seafood species in the Northeast are migratory, and baymen are largely held to a six-month harvesting season each year. State commercial fishing rules, though, are arranged on a year-round basis, and quotas in the summer months are sometimes curtailed because of the success of fishermen working in the ocean—all while baymen’s nets are still on dry land. And even when they are on the water, baymen only have a small window to operate within, as fish typically migrate through a given area in large numbers for only a few weeks.

“The reality is, we may have 60 or 70 days in a season to catch our fish,” said East Hampton bayman Dan Lester, who fishes in Gardiners Bay with pound nets. “And we can’t chase them around. We’re here—our traps are in one spot. We need to be able to keep the fish when we can catch them.”

For most species, harvest limits in New York are regulated according to a per-day, or per-trip, cap. Fisheries managers vary daily limits during different quarters of the season to accommodate the logistics of inshore and offshore fisheries. But if fishing success is high in a given period, the daily limits could be dialed back substantially until the end of that period.

Most baymen who fish using pound traps, gillnets or small draggers rely primarily on catching porgy and fluke for the bulk of their income. Other species like menhaden, a bait fish, and striped bass, bluefish, blowfish, weakfish, squid and butterfish add sprinkles of revenue at different times of the year.

The tight and often changing daily catch limits for porgy and fluke have given inshore fishermen fits in recent years. In winter, the daily limit for porgy can be as much as 50,000 pounds per trip—making them a worthwhile target for large trawlers ranging out to sea in the stormy winter months. In summer, when the fish are inshore and easily caught, the limit is typically just 1,000 pounds a day, to keep the market from becoming oversaturated.

Last July, after harvest reports showed that the summer quota was nearing its ceiling, the daily limit for porgy was dropped to just 210 pounds per day at one point, and was only saved from being slashed to 70 pounds following an outcry from baymen.

“The local fixed-gear fishermen do not get a fair shake,” Hampton Bays bayman Ed Warner Jr., a Southampton Town Trustee, said. “If the big boats overfish the quota, they take it away from us. But if we don’t fill our quota one summer, the extra goes to the last quarter, by which time there’s no fish left inshore, and the offshore boats get to utilize it.”

Mr. Lester, whose family has been fishing Gardiners Bay for a dozen generations, said that even with a 1,000-pound limit, baymen are at a distinct disadvantage. “With porgies, we might get two weeks in the spring to catch them, and then they’re gone,” he said. “One day we might have 100 pounds, and another day, when the wind blows different, we might have 10,000.

“But if the rule is 1,000 pounds a day,” he continued, “we’re out of luck on the day we have 100 pounds, and we can’t make up for it on the day we have 10,000. We still have to let 9,000 go.”

The baymen say that, rather than being held to the daily quotas, subject to the influences of the big-boat fishery, the inshore fishermen should be allotted a certain percentage of the total quota for the various species that allows them to keep all the fish they catch on any given day, as long as the overall quota hasn’t been filled.

“Three percent of the quota, or something like that, would make it more fair,” said Mr. Warner, a third-generation bayman. “If the summer quota is filled and they’re going to close it, it would let the baymen keep fishing when we have the fish.”

Local fishermen say the shrinking baymen community is also being hamstrung by a two-decade-old state moratorium on the issuance of new commercial harvest licenses for fluke and striped bass. Despite the fact that many of those who held licenses when the freeze was put in place have died, retired or left the fishing industry, young local fishermen trying to earn a living on the water, few though they may be, still cannot get the permits to catch fluke and striped bass.

Mr. Lester, 41, who has fished commercially his entire life, still is unable to acquire a commercial license to harvest fluke, which would allow him and his brother, Paul, when fishing together, to keep a double limit of the valuable fish during the few weeks a year when they appear in his traps.

“They set up the permit system to give fishermen a equal share of the allocation,” explained Arnold Leo, a former bayman and East Hampton Town’s fisheries advisor. “It was 550 permits originally for striped bass. Now we’re down to only 480 permits being utilized, and there’s no way in the regulations for those unused permits to be issued to someone else.

“It’s a complete screw-up, and we’ve tried for a long time to get it remedied,” he added.

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said that bringing an end to the license moratorium, the inequities faced by baymen and other perceived missteps by state fisheries laws in general will be the target of legislation that he and Senator Kenneth P. LaValle expect to introduce soon in Albany.

“The current system of issuing licenses is making it impossible for new individuals to enter into the fishery, which was never the intention and … the [DEC] Marine Division has been very unresponsive,” Mr. Thiele said. “We need a complete revamping of the whole permitting and licensing process in the State of New York.”

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I don't feel sorry for these guys one bit. Having worked for many years on commercial fishing vessels, I know that giving an opportunity, these guys would take the last surviving female fish from the ocean. All they care about is $$$$$$$$$$$. The waste, carnage and pirating of fish by these guys is horrendous.
By mtkfish (59), montauk on Feb 26, 15 11:26 AM
1 member liked this comment
They and their kind are responsible for the precipitous decline in so many species in recent years. They are conscienceless predators, rapists and plunderers of our waterways, with no limits to their avarice. They should be banished and their vessels seized, operators tried and imprisoned for their flagrant crimes against nature.
By mediawatcher (3), brookhaven on Feb 26, 15 2:19 PM
1 member liked this comment
You're being facetious, right?
We all know It's Obamas fault!
Actually, the seals ate all the flounder.
By Non-Political (124), Hampton Bays on Feb 26, 15 8:00 PM
They rape the bays for their own sake, not for the sake of the future, the environment, tradition, all while crying it is a way of life that is the "history" of our forefather crap. Guess what, times have changed. This isn't 1890 before the outboard motor, pollution, overpopulation. Do what the rest of us did/do in the Winter, find a job somewhere else, plow snow, work odd jobs. My dad had to travel out of state to support his family at one time. Don't feel sorry for the Baymen one bit. I'll ...more
By lirider (288), Westhampton Beach on Feb 26, 15 10:22 PM
1 member liked this comment
You keep eating that crap from China. Just make sure you check for worms first. If you would eat tilapia over a local species you may as well eat cardboard.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Feb 27, 15 1:17 PM
I know what Tilapia is and how it comes about. I was kidding. You didn't get my point. Fish in SEASON! If you really need to rape the bays in Winter then it is purely for selfish reasons. Eat other stuff in the Winter. It's called being responsible and letting what's left of the species have time to recuperate.
By lirider (288), Westhampton Beach on Mar 10, 15 10:12 PM
I have to stop them from illegally getting clams out of season on clam island in noyak. No law enforcement
By yassar arafar (33), sag harbor on Feb 27, 15 11:48 AM
You pick up the phone, snap a pic with your cell phone and call the town Bay Constables. ezpz
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Feb 27, 15 1:17 PM
It boggles the mind that folks from away have decided that the baymen should just stop their LEGAL profession. They provide a safe, healthy sustainable product , locally sourced and in high demand. lirider, you are welcome to eat all the tilapia you want, I prefer wild product over some farm raised garbage raised in a feces clogged pen. I doubt any of the anti commercial fisherman posters have ever worked on the bay as there sole source of income. Are you a law enforcement officer yassar? If not ...more
By bigfresh (4590), north sea on Feb 27, 15 12:31 PM
1 member liked this comment
Tilapia is not seafood. I agree with the above posters....it is garbage! I would never eat a farm raised fish, or so called fish. Natural is best....Eat Wild seafood.
By mtkfish (59), montauk on Feb 28, 15 11:33 AM
All these guys, would rather see the bay as a whole get wiped so they can eat whatever they want, when they want. They probably pull shorts whenever nobody's looking.
By lirider (288), Westhampton Beach on Mar 10, 15 10:15 PM
The DEC needs to be sued in federal court. It is settled law that a license needed to make a living is the property of the holder -- and if it has an intrinsic value by virtue of the fact that entry is closed that value is also our property. The State can enforce a moratorium on issuing new licenses -- but they cannot bar the free and exclusive (to the licensee) transfer of already issued licenses. It's not a matter of the State deciding whether or not they want us to be able to transfer and/or ...more
By surfnetter (6), Center Moriches on Sep 20, 17 5:35 PM
Some of these comments are totaly false. Lumping all fishermen as rapist of the sea. Totally false.
I have a mid size dragger in montauk. I spend most of my time changing mesh sizes , changing nets with varying sweep arrangements, some mesh we can drive truck though to avoid fish species. Also spend a great deal of time driving away from fish. The general public is fed a load garbage from leftie enviromental companies .
By chucketzel (4), East Hampton on Sep 20, 17 6:46 PM
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