Environment & Nature

Environmental advocates call for the banning of microbeads in order to protect waterways like the Long Island Sound. from left, Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Dr. Larry Swanson of Stony Brook University, Dr. Artie Kopelman of Coastal Research Education Society Long Island, George Hoffman of Setauket Harbor Protection Committee, Rob Weltner of Operation SPLASH, Matt Grove of Surfrider, Enrico Nardone of Seatuck Environmental, and Katie Muether of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society. Photo from Maureen Murphy

When it comes to water pollution, size does not matter.

That’s why a group of environmental advocates gathered along the shoreline of the Long Island Sound in Stony Brook last week to call for state legislation that would ban the tiny but potentially harmful microbeads in personal care products.

The rally was organized to coincide with June 8’s World Oceans Day and zeroed in on the Microbead-Free Waters Act, which would ban personal care products made with the tiny plastic pellets called microbeads, which advocates said are hurting waterways and wildlife because New York’s wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to filter them prior to the water’s release into the environment.

The legislation passed the Assembly in April but has remained idle in the Senate.

The bill is sponsored in the Senate by Republican Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Tom O’Mara (R-Big Flats), with 37 cosponsors — a total that surpasses the 32 votes it needs to pass.

William Cooke, director of government relations for the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, helped orchestrate the rally and called on Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) to use his new role as majority leader to help ensure a microbead ban passes before legislative session ends June 17.

“While microbeads are small, the problem they are creating is very large,” Cooke said. “The solution is unbelievably simple and absolutely free. The answer is to take them out of our products now. This legislation currently has more support than is needed to pass. The only question is will the new Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan allow it to move forward.”

The New York State Attorney General reported that 19 tons of plastic microbeads enter the wastewater stream in New York annually, and the tiny beads are passing through treatment plants on Long Island and throughout the state. Plastic microbeads in state waters accumulate toxins, are consumed by fish, and can work their way up the food chain, putting public health at risk.

“The Microbead-Free Waters Act has a clear pathway to passage. If it’s not brought up for a vote, it’s a clear sign that industry has once again silenced the majority of New York’s state senators,” said Saima Anjam, environmental health director at Environmental Advocates of New York, who was at the rally. “New Yorkers expect more from new leadership. … Senators Flanagan and O’Mara need to allow a simple up or down vote on bills supported by a majority of members.”

Flanagan’s office declined to comment on the matter.

Late last year, Suffolk County committed to studying the health and economic impacts of banning microbeads on the county level to the praise of county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who argued that Suffolk needed to follow the likes of municipalities like Illinois, which was the first state to outright ban the sale of cosmetics containing plastic microbeads.

“On a macro level, there is no doubt that microbeads are finding their way into our nation’s rivers, lakes and oceans,” said Hahn, chairwoman of the Legislature’s Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee. “What we need to know is to what extent, locally, these additives [impact] our environment and, if corrective action is needed, what ramifications would be expected.”

Suffolk officials discuss environmental issues facing Long Island after thousands of dead fish washed ashore in Riverhead. Photo by Alex Petroski

The estimated nearly 100,000 dead bunker fish that have washed ashore in Riverhead may seem astounding, but it wasn’t all that surprising to the panel of experts brought before the Suffolk County Health Committee on Thursday.

In late May, the thousands of dead bunker fish, formally known as Atlantic menhaden fish, began appearing in the Peconic Estuary, an area situated between the North and South Forks of Long Island. According to a June 2 press release from the Peconic Estuary Program, the bunker fish died as a result of low dissolved oxygen in the water. This shortage of oxygen is called hypoxia.

Walter Dawydiak, director of the county’s environmental quality division, who serves on the panel, which was organized by the health committee chairman, Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), testified that the number of dead fish was at or approaching 100,000.

“This one is bigger and worse than any,” Dawydiak said.

According to the PEP, which is part of the National Estuary Program and seeks to conserve the estuary, bunker are filter-feeding fish and an important food source for many predatory fish, including striped bass and blue fish.

Alison Branco, the program’s director, said the fish are likely being chased into shallow waters by predators, but are dying because of low dissolved oxygen levels in the waters. In addition, an algae bloom is contributing to the low levels and is fueled by excess nitrogen loading. Much of that nitrogen comes from septic systems, sewage treatment plants and fertilizer use.

“We’ve reach a point where this kind of hypoxia was run of the mill. We expect it every summer,” Branco, who also served as a panelist, said following the hearing.

While magnitude of the fish kill was astounding, the experts said they weren’t so surprised that it happened.

“I definitely thought it could happen at any time,” Christopher Gobler, a biologist at Stony Brook University, said in a one-on-one interview after the panel hearing. “There’s been an oxygen problem there all along.”

Gobler called it largest fish kill he’d seen in 20 years.

According to panel members, the worst of the fish kill occurred between May 27 and May 30.

Branco did suggest that this shocking environmental event could be turned into a positive if the right measures are taken sooner rather than later.

“It’s always shocking to see a fish kill,” she said. “As much as we don’t want to have things like that happen I think the silver lining is that it did capture the public’s attention.”

Prevention of a fish kill this large is possible, according to Branco. While preventing the harmful algal blooms is not possible, reducing the frequency and severity can be done if the amount of nitrogen in the coastal water supply is controlled.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, an environmental policy advocacy group, agreed that curtailing the amount of nitrogen in the water is the easiest and most impactful way for prevention of a fish kill of this magnitude.

“The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step,” Esposito said in response to a question about the daunting task of fixing the Island’s sewage treatment techniques and facilities on a limited budget.

Esposito described the roughly $5 million from New York State, which was allotted to Suffolk County to deal with cleaning the coastal water supply, as seed money. Esposito and Branco both said they believe the commitment of time and money required to solve the nitrogen problem in the water supply will be vast.

“We can do this,” she said. “We have to do it. We have no choice.”

DeForest Williams property is open to public

A scene at the grand opening of Wawapek Preserve in Cold Spring Harbor last weekend. Photo from North Shore Land Alliance

Local officials gathered to mark the grand opening of the Wawapek Preserve last Saturday. Located in Cold Spring Harbor, residents will now be able to walk through the 32-acre parcel’s trails and take in its unique nature.

Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the North Shore Land Alliance, Huntington Town, Suffolk County, New York State and the local community, $8.5 million was pitched in to preserve the property, following a negotiation that spanned years.

This property, once part of a 600-plus acre piece of land that encompassed the Wawapek Farm, has remained in the DeForest Williams estate for more than 100 years. Originally owned by Robert Weeks DeForest, a lawyer and philanthropist, the family expressed interest in having the property preserved in 2006.

Unfortunately, Huntington and Suffolk County did not have the funds at the time to purchase the land. But three years ago, threats of development become more foreboding, and the land alliance came on board to help guarantee that the property would be conserved.

Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said in a statement that the town is happy to have partnered with the county and the land alliance on the purchase, and he hopes that many people will walk these trails to see some of the unique flora and fauna that call the Wawapek Preserve their home.

These partners were able to raise the millions needed to purchase the property, with the help of the residents of the community, nonprofits and local businesses.

Eastern box turtles, a species on the New York State special concern list, and at least three state-protected plants have been documented on the land, Lisa Ott, president and CEO of the alliance, said in a press release.

It has also been discovered that it’s very likely Wawapek Preserve serves as a breeding spot and stopover habitat for many migratory songbirds and other species. The scarlet tanager, a neotropical migrant species, was expected to be discovered there, although comprehensive biological surveys have been limited due to restricted access.

Long Island has a strong commitment to protecting the habitats of endangered birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Long Island Field Office has worked with state and local governments to protect the habitat of birds like the piping plovers.

More than 60 percent of the land is comprised of mature hardwood forest, which protects air quality, provides erosion control and is home to a variety of wildlife, trees and wildflowers, according to Ott.

Local lawmakers including Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), county Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), Petrone, Councilwoman Susan Berland (D), Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) and former Councilman Mark Mayoka (R) gathered back in September 2013 at the DeForest Williams property, when the funds were first committed to make the purchase possible. Spencer called it an “incredible victory” at the time, and believed it was government work at its finest.

“The opening of Wawapek represents the ideal blending of conservation and community,” land alliance Chairman Carter Bales said in a statement.

Officials commend Smithtown on Friday for adopting the new geothermal code. From left to right, Michael Kaufman of Suffolk County Planning Commission; David Calone, chair of the county’s Planning Commission; Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio; Michael Voltz, director of energy efficiency and renewable energy at PSEG Long Island; and John Franceschina of the Long Island Geothermal Energy Organization. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

A new Smithtown code has already translated into some cash.

PSEG Long Island presented Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) with a $10,000 check last Friday for adopting a new model geothermal code.

The utility provided an incentive program for any Long Island township that embraced the new geothermal codes, which utilize the constant, belowground temperature to heat and cool buildings, and help homes save both energy and money. PSEG Long Island committed to provide implementation assistance of $10,000 to each township and $5,000 to the first 10 villages with a population greater than 5,000 in Suffolk and Nassau counties that adopted the model geothermal code by May 31.

This particular new geothermal code helps municipal and private industry installers streamline the evaluation and installation process of the geothermal system in Suffolk County and ensures high quality installations to protect the county’s groundwater.

Vecchio said he was proud that Smithtown was the first town to adopt the code.

“I believe it’ll be a wave of the future;  we want to be the first ones to allow this new energy to come in,” he said.

When PSEG Long Island and the Long Island Geothermal Energy Organization unveiled the new energy code back in November, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) stood with the organizations, urging towns to consider the adoption.

Smithtown’s Town Board voted in March to make Smithtown the first town in Suffolk County to adopt the new alternative energy geothermal code for residential and commercial properties.

This is not the first time Smithtown has been one of the firsts to adopt alternative energy codes, signing onto a model code crafted at the Suffolk County Planning Commission for solar energy. The model code helps municipalities evaluate proposed solar energy systems for both commercial and residential properties.

Back in March when Smithtown adopted the code, Michael Kaufman, of the county Planning Commission helped draft the model code and said he believed that Smithtown residents needed to act locally by going green as much as possible because of the energy crisis on Long Island, with Long Island having some of the highest electrical rates in the nation.

“There is an energy crisis on Long Island,” Kaufman said at a previous town meeting. “We have some of the highest electric rates in the entire nation. Fossil fuel energy has high costs and we have severe environmental costs when fossil fuels are used. Town of Smithtown residents need to think globally and act locally by going green as much as possible.”

North Shore resident calls on neighbors to boost effort against blight

The Crooked Hill bus stop is blighted before Ed Mikell helped to rejuvinate it as he spearheaded a community effort to clean up Commack. Photo from Mikell

By Alex Petroski

The 7 Cents Club of Commack is not a household name, but it might be one day.

Ed Mikell, a retired Commack resident, said he created the 7 Cents Club of Commack hoping to attract, as he puts it, “anyone interested in promoting Commack community pride.”

Promoting community pride might sound vague, but for Mikell it is specific and direct. He is tired of seeing the streets of the town he has called home for nearly a half-century covered with trash and he is ready to do something about it, he said.

Mikell said he plans to focus his efforts to clean up Commack on a small segment of Crooked Hill Road for now, which runs north and south for about four and a half miles almost right down the middle of Long Island. He described the site of his inaugural, and to date his only completed 7 Cents Club of Commack project, which he did by himself back in September.

“It’s the first time that I decided to do anything like this,” Mikell said. “I had a free afternoon. There were about 10 people standing in the middle of that garbage. I said, ‘this is just terrible.’”

The Crooked Hill bus stop in Commack shines after Ed Mikell helped to rejuvinate it as part of a community effort to clean up his neighborhood. Photo from Mikell
The Crooked Hill bus stop in Commack shines after Ed Mikell helped to rejuvinate it as part of a community effort to clean up his neighborhood. Photo from Mikell

It is hard to discern who should be responsible for the bus stop in question that now features a white bench and a brown, metal garbage can with white lettering that reads “7 Cents Club of Commack,” compliments of Mikell’s wife Linda.

The garbage can was a spare that Mikell spotted in the corner of a field on the Suffolk County Community College Grant Campus, along with about 20 other identical ones. Mikell said a maintenance worker was more than happy to help him load the can into his car to be transported to the site. Mikell wouldn’t divulge where the bench came from because he didn’t want to endanger the generous party’s employment.

And while cleaning, Mikell had found seven cents on the ground, hence the name of his volunteer project.
“He comes up with these ideas every once in a while and they usually turn out to be quite amazing,” Linda Mikell said, adding she wasn’t surprised when her husband came to her and described his plan, rather than searching for someone else to do the dirty work. “That’s the way Ed is.”

There is no question over who is responsible for the bus stop now. Mikell said he has an arrangement waiting with Cliff Mitchell of the Suffolk County Public Works Department to claim the spot, along with a larger segment of Crooked Hill Road, as part of the Adopt-a-Highway Program.

To proceed he needs signed waivers from his team that he can bring to the county, which will then provide him with gloves, sticks to pick up garbage, bags, reflective vests and anything else that the club might need.

The program requires a commitment from applicants to tend to claimed areas once a month, 10 months a year for two years.

Mikell said he is willing to commit to this cause for the foreseeable future, and thanks to his nearly 50 years of business experience, he is prepared for possible expansion. He has what he called a “project control” system in place that will help him track the sites of cleanups, when they were addressed, by whom and when follow-up was done.

“My whole thought about this was if it works in Commack it’ll work in Kings Park, it’ll work in Hauppauge, it’ll work in Wyandanch,” Mikell said. “It will work in every town and all that needs to be had is a person like me in every town who cares, who will go out and organize and structure it.”

Since he began dropping flyers in Commack mailboxes and hanging them in public places about six months ago, Mikell says he has yet to hear back from anyone interested in lending a hand. The lack of enthusiasm from others in the community has disheartened him, he said, but it has not deterred him from finding applicants in other ways.

Mikell has since enlisted the help of a few neighbors from his street, including retired mechanical engineer Nicholas Giannopoulos.

“We’d like to have the community look halfway decent,” Giannopoulos said. “Basically I think everybody should contribute to the community to make it better. If you live in an area that you like to live in, everybody should think along those lines.”

Mikell returns to the original site regularly to make sure that his efforts were not wasted. On one occasion, he noticed someone sitting on his bench at the bus stop and saw garbage next to the can. He asked the woman why she didn’t put the garbage in the can. She responded defensively and said it didn’t belong to her.

“I’m not blaming the woman. I was just making a comment,” Mikell said with a smile. “She’ll sit there and allow that to be there instead of just picking it up and putting it in the garbage. I think people are just busy as all hell. If you don’t have one job you have two.”

Mikell has a big job ahead of him with Crooked Hill Road alone. He pointed out about 15 to 20 spots that needed attention from someone. There is no doubt in his mind though as to where the attention will come from.

“People say ‘it’s the town of ‘X-Y-Z’ — you’d expect it from that town.’ Well I don’t expect it from any town.”

If you would like more information about the 7 Cents Club of Commack you can contact Ed Mikell at 7centsclubcom@optimum.net.

Huntington Town, Northport Village to participate in Clean Beaches Day

Clean Beaches Day kicks off in Huntington Town and Northport Village this weekend. File photo

This weekend, Huntington Town residents will get the chance to roll up their sleeves and clean up their favorite beaches.

Clean Beaches Day is set for Saturday, June 6. Huntington Town and Northport Village co-sponsor the event, which will feature cleanups at Centerport, Crab Meadow, Gold Start Battalion, Asharoken/Steers and Scudder beaches.

In an interview this week, Northport Village Mayor George Doll said he is calling on volunteers to participate in the festivities. A commercial fisherman by trade, Doll said the event is important to him and he’s been participating for several years.

“I do it because not only am I interested in the environment, but I make a living off of fish that are pretty much a natural resource,” he said. “And it’s just a way of doing something to help keep it clean.”

Those who participate in Northport will get the chance to visit Bird Island, a bird sanctuary that doesn’t get a lot of visitors, Doll said. The island was created in the 1960s with dredge spoils, and the site eventually became home to a number of birds including Canadian geese, swans and ospreys, he said.

Volunteers will get the option of registering for a cleanup at Centerport, Crab Meadow or Gold Star Battalion beaches, according to a press release from Councilwoman Susan Berland’s (D) office. Also, volunteers can register to be a part of the Clean Beaches Bus Tour, which will take them to Asharoken/Steers and Scudder beaches.

One kickoff for the event will be at 8:15 a.m. at Centerport Beach, where volunteers can enjoy breakfast before the cleanup. The bus tour leaves Centerport Beach at 9 a.m. After the cleanup, at noon, a luncheon will be held at the pavilion at Centerport Beach, where volunteers can relax and enjoy refreshments.

Doll said volunteers would also be meeting up in Northport at 8:30 a.m. at the Village Dock, where they’ll be served a continental breakfast courtesy of Tim’s Shipwreck Diner. Cleanup will start at 9 a.m.

Visit the town’s website for more information on Clean Beaches Day or contact Fran Evans at 631-351-3018.

Setauket Harbor file photo by Rachel Shapiro

Setauket is harboring a working relationship with North Shore officials as advocates flood their offices with environmental projects.

The newly formed Setauket Harbor Task Force has been in talks with various elected officials, including Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Parks Commissioner Ed Morris, as the group continues its push to sustain the beauty of the North Shore spot. The group gathered for a walking tour of the town-owned Setauket Harbor properties on May 12 to highlight areas around the harbor that need attention.

Laurie Vetere, a North Shore-based attorney and president of the volunteer task force, said the meeting was a step in the right direction.

“The task force is encouraged by the town’s swift response in meeting with us and their receptivity to our concerns,” she said.

Some of those concerns included making sure the town pays attention to the road runoff retention basin and pond that forms near the inlet at Setauket Harbor, and maintaining park property just to the west of the area’s footbridge, Vetere said.

The group also urged town officials to keep their eyes on the beach and dock along Shore Road, where a combination of winter ice and 8-foot tides had severely damaged the dock, upending the pilings and twisting the aluminum gangplank, the group said. The town had already replaced both the pilings and the dock as the winter came to a close, and Morris confirmed the gangplank leading down to the dock would be repaired by the beginning of summer.

Charlie Lefkowitz, a board member and Setauket-based businessman, said the town was more than receptive to the task force’s concerns, and results were already tangible.

“We want to be partners with the town in improving the harbor and working with them to put in place corrective actions that will help water quality and enhance the general enjoyment of the harbor view-shed,” he said.

The Setauket Harbor Task Force was formed last year over concerns about the harbor and the deteriorating water quality, and it recently held a meeting about the health of the harbor that drew more than 60 local residents.

Flowering quince, once established, is somewhat drought tolerant and has lovely red flowers in the spring. By planting drought-tolerant plants, you’re less likely to have to spend your time irrigating your garden. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

The last two years have been interesting weatherwise on Long Island. The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which predicted a cold and snowy winter for 2013-14, and yes it was, also predicted a hot and rainy summer. As far as the hot part is concerned, it was one of the coolest summers in many years. So much for the hot part!

The wet part, well that’s a different story, kind of. Through early August we were below average. The average rain at Brookhaven National Lab in Upton for June, July, August and September hovered around four inches each of those months — a little above, a little below. June’s actual rainfall was just a little over two inches and July’s was about two and a half — definitely below average. Last fall and early winter, however, gave us plenty of rain. Last winter (2014-15) was incredibly cold and snowy. While the meteorologists didn’t talk “polar vortex” as they had the winter before, the almanac did predict a very cold winter, and yes, it was. But spring, so far has been relatively cool and dry.

Because rainfall on Long Island can vary so much from not only year to year but week to week, gardeners needed to keep an eye on it so that their gardens thrive. On average, it rains once every three or four days, but we can go for weeks in the summer with little or no rain or have it rain every day for a solid week or more.

Place a rain gauge strategically in your garden so you can see how much rain you’re getting each week and adjust your irrigation schedule accordingly. Above, the gauge shows that approximately four inches of rain/irrigation were received at that spot in the garden in just a few days. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Place a rain gauge strategically in your garden so you can see how much rain you’re getting each week and adjust your irrigation schedule accordingly. Above, the gauge shows that approximately four inches of rain/irrigation were received at that spot in the garden in just a few days. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Not only does rainfall vary timewise but geographically as well. August 13’s, 2014, record 13 plus inches of rain in southwestern Suffolk County (the Islip area in particular) flooded roads that tied up traffic, but the North and South forks got less than an inch of rain from that storm. So eastern Suffolk gardeners were watering their plants while western and central Suffolk gardeners were pumping out flooded basements.

So, place a rain gauge in your garden where it can accurately measure how much rain your garden has received. Make sure that the gauge is not under bushes, for example, which can cover the gauge’s opening. Check your gauge periodically. You can then adjust your added watering accordingly.

Most of us have very sandy soil. We need to be particularly concerned with weeks and weeks of no or little rain during the summer. We need to supplement what Mother Nature provides, particularly with plants such as tomatoes or hydrangeas, both of which need a steady supply of water. Tomato plants that dry out can result in blossom end rot. Grass should receive about an inch a week. Remember that since most of us have very sandy soil, even torrential rain, say two or more inches at once, drains quickly into the soil, and a few days later you may need to water. Also, containers dry out more quickly than plants in the ground.

Some of us have clay soil or live in an area where the water table is very high. For those gardeners, it’s not a question of getting enough rain; it can be controlling too much water or finding plants that do well in very wet soil.

If you have an area where lots of water drains into the soil, say from your roof top, you might want to consider a rain garden. This basically consists of a depressed area, frequently with a berm around it, which acts like a recharge basis (a sump) for the island’s water table. If you have an area where water virtually never drains, you might consider a bog garden. Plants that  enjoy “wet feet” do well here.

Using native plants is an option and will make it easier for the gardener. Native plants are adapted to Long Island’s periods of rain and drought and need little tending.

More on native plants, rain gardens and bog gardens in future weeks.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

Village historian shares story of walk through nature, delivers tips on how to navigate Old Post Road terrain

The Sherwood-Jayne Farm’s nature trails offer an abundance of scenic North Shore spots. Photo from Beverly Tyler

by Beverly C. Tyler

Walking the nature trails at the 80-acre Sherwood-Jayne Farm on Old Post Road in East Setauket is a delight.

My wife, Barbara, and I walked the three trails this past Friday about 10 a.m. It had rained Thursday night, however the trails were completely dry and the soft covering of well-trodden leaves made the walk easy and pleasant underfoot.

A kiosk marks the start of the trails and identifies the route and color markings of each trail. The start of the walk is slightly uphill and slightly narrower than the rest of the trails. Stay to the left throughout and you will go from the white trail to the blue trail and then the red trail.

The morning of our walk the sun was shining through the trees and the birds were singing their various calls.

There are red-tailed hawks and great horned owls nesting in the trees.

We saw them earlier in the spring but on this day the tree cover was sufficient to hide their nests and the circling of the hawks. The singing of the birds and the rat-a-tat-tat of the woodpeckers continued throughout our walk.

The mid point is also the low point of the walk and ferns dominate. We were at the closest part to Route 25A but we couldn’t hear any traffic noise, just the wind through the tops of the trees and the birds.

The walk descended gently from a height of 125 feet to the low point of 70 feet above sea level. It curves through the area behind Sherwood-Jayne House. It took us about 45 minutes to complete the walk on all three trails, arriving back where we started.

This Sunday, May 31, come and enjoy a family day at the farm, from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. The occasion is the Third Annual Sheep Shearing Festival at Sherwood-Jayne Farm, 55 Old Post Road, East Setauket. Admission is $5 per person or $20 per family, and car parking is free.

At 1 p.m., take a walk on the nature trails with the Seatuck Environmental Association, the group that designed and built the trails. At 2 p.m., watch Tabbethia Haubold of the Long Island Livestock Co. shear the sheep and talk about the secrets of wool gathering.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

Young horseshoe crabs at West Meadow Beach, Stony Brook. File photo

Local fishermen came out to Brookhaven Town Hall last Thursday to let officials know they oppose Supervisor Ed Romaine’s push to limit horseshoe crab harvesting.

Earlier that week, Romaine (R) announced he and the town board would consider urging the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which regulates the industry, to ban horseshoe crab harvesting within 500 feet of town-owned property in an effort to protect the crab population and allow them a safe place to mate.

Romaine moved to table the idea after hearing the baymen’s concerns.

The 450-million-year-old species are used for bait and in the biomedical and pharmaceutical industries, as their blue blood is used to detect bacterial contamination in products. At a May 19 press conference, officials said if the crab population shrinks, other species — like those that eat the crabs’ eggs — could be negatively affected.

Stony Brook’s West Meadow Beach and Mount Sinai Harbor already have harvesting plans in place, and a ban would broaden the restriction area.

However, the fishermen said the restriction was not based on any facts and the horseshoe crab population is not declining. In addition, they said further regulation would affect their livelihoods.

Ron Bellucci Jr., of Sound Beach, said horseshoe crab harvesting is a vital part of his income. He added that he knows the crabs are important to the larger ecosystem, which he is a part of as well.

“I’m just a man, but I’m a vital part of the food chain and I think I’m at the top,” he said.

According to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a partnership between East Coast states to protect fisheries, a 2013 assessment of the horsecrab population showed a decrease in the New York and New England regions, while crabs have increased in the southern states — North Carolina through Florida — and remained stable from New Jersey through coastal Virginia.

David Klopfenstein, of the North Shore Baymen’s Association, urged the board to speak with the DEC before supporting a ban. He said there was a lot of misinformation regarding a very complex issue that is already being controlled.

“It’s also the most well-managed fisheries that we have up and down the East Coast,” he said.

The DEC did not immediately comment on the issue.

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