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Baymen

Huntington Harbor

It was baymen versus baymen at the podium during Huntington’s town meeting last month, with two sides arguing whether or not the shellfish harvesting technique known as sail dredging should be banned.

Water quality concerns prompt discussions about harvesting shellfish using mechanical and sail dredging techniques. The state prohibits harvesting shellfish in Huntington Harbor. Rendering from New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Charles Murphy, the president of the North Shore Baymen’s Association, said that the practice of raking with mechanical means through the bay floor is barbaric, destroys underwater lands and results in overharvesting. He recommends only hand-harvesting shellfish.

“Over the last six years, the operators of four diesel powered boats have stolen millions of dollars’ worth of clams and oysters from the Town of Huntington’s waters,” Murphy said in  a letter circulated in the community. “These diesel boats, as well as some of the smaller boats, have put a big time hurting on the bay.”

Other baymen said a ban or regulation over the practice of sail dredging, which differs from mechanical dredging, is unwanted and likely even unnecessary, pointing out that the last 10 years’ oyster harvests have been particularly good.

“We’re getting squeezed,” Bob Cannon, a fisherman who spoke at the meeting, said to the town council. “I prefer if you don’t make our lives any more difficult.” 

George Doll has been a Northport fisherman since 1958 and formerly served as Northport’s mayor for the last 12 years. Sail dredging, he explained in an interview, is mainly used during the winter months when fishermen struggle to make ends meet. It relies on wind in a sail to drive a rake through the bay floor to harvest shellfish. 

Dom Spada, the deputy mayor and police commissioner of the Village of Huntington Bay, said in a phone interview that mechanical dredging, using motorized engines to harvest shellfish, has always been prohibited.

The town, he said, has issued in recent years summons to people harvesting shellfish using mechanical equipment. He was unable to provide statistics on the problem.

As for sail dredging, he said it’s status quo. The seasonal and locational restrictions that apply for hand-harvesting also apply to sail dredging. 

The board has 90 days from May 29 to vote on the issue. However, the topic is currently not on the next town meeting agenda.

Core issue: Water quality 

The dredging debate is surfacing just as New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is advancing a major $10.4 million Long Island Shellfish Restoration Project. Huntington Harbor was selected as one of five bodies of water where hundreds of millions of clams and oysters are being sowed to improve water quality.

Christopher Gobler, the chair of Coastal Ecology and Conservation at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, is a co-chair for the project. He said he knows of no good information about the shellfish population trends for Huntington Harbor over time that might indicate whether or not shellfish are overharvested. One trend is clear: Huntington Harbor’s water quality needs improving. Gobler said his team identified five ecosystems that would most benefit from additional filtration, and Huntington ranks among the chosen few.  

Suffolk County Health Department has documented 139 beach closures over the last decade in Huntington Harbor caused by high levels of Enterococcus bacteria, a fecal bacterium. 

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, together with the Town of Huntington, Stony Brook University and the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, will plant up to 650,000 adult clams, 5.1 million seed clams and 1 million oysters spat-on-shells this summer and fall, based on availability.

The project hopes to improve water quality, mitigate harmful algal blooms, restore shellfish populations and increase biodiversity in coastal waters.  

“Let’s hope the dredge boats don’t steal these clams,” Murphy stated in the document that he circulated in the community. 

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Mackenzie Zajac makes her way to the basket in Shoreham-Wading River's 51-30 loss to Hampton Bays. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The Shoreham-Wading River girls’ basketball team struggled to recover after an 11-0 start by its opponent as the Wildcats fell to Hampton Bays, 51-30, in their first League VI loss Tuesday.

“Being down 11-0 was a problem,” Shoreham-Wading River head coach Adam Lievre said. “We talked a little bit about that before the game — I don’t know if I jinxed us — but we played hard. Offensively, at times, we struggled to score, and against a team that can shoot the ball well from the outside, it’s hard for us to trade missed layups for them to get open threes.”

Mikayla Dwyer maintains possession with a Hampton Bays defender on her hip in the Wildcats' 51-30 loss on Jan. 5. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Mikayla Dwyer maintains possession with a Hampton Bays defender on her hip in the Wildcats’ 51-30 loss on Jan. 5. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Shoreham-Wading River sophomore guard Mikayla Dwyer put the Wildcats’ first points on the board, and junior forward Lindsey McKenna followed right behind her. Dwyer was fouled heading to the basket after her team forced a turnover, and she sank her first free-throw attempt to cut the deficit, 11-5.

The Baymen went on another tare, this time scoring six straight points, before McKenna scored another field goal. Hampton Bays countered with a field goal of its own, and added a long field goal at the buzzer to bring the score to 22-7.

“Execution is hard,” Lievre said. “We do as much as we can, and sometimes they fall and sometimes they don’t. Tonight was a night where, early on, in the first couple of minutes, they didn’t fall, and it led to a hole that we just couldn’t recover from.”

The hole continued to grow, despite junior guard Jesse Arline coming off the bench to score half of the team’s points in the second stanza, with a long field goal and a three-pointer. At the end of the eight minutes, the Wildcats fell behind 38-17.

“We just need to strategize, but there’s no problem with effort,” Arline said. “We tried really hard and we did a good job. I think movement of the ball was really good. Some of our shots weren’t landing, but you need to play fast against a team like that.”

Lievre said he agreed that despite the loss, he’s never had a problem with his girls giving him their all.

“My girls always play hard until the very end,” he said. “We never have to question effort or intensity, we just have to execute offensively. I never have to worry about them putting everything into a game, because they will — they’ll battle no matter what the score is, good or bad.”

McKenna led the team with six points on the evening, Arline and Dwyer tacked on five apiece, junior forward Maddy Bottari and junior forward Sophie Triandafils finished with four each, junior guard Mackenzie Zajac added three, and junior guard Sam Higgins and junior forward Maria Smith rounded out the scoring with two points and one point, respectively.

Jesse Arline dribbles the ball into Hampton Bays’ zone in the Wildcats' 51-30 loss on Jan. 5. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Jesse Arline dribbles the ball into Hampton Bays’ zone in the Wildcats’ 51-30 loss on Jan. 5. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The Wildcats were off to a 3-0 start in the league before the loss. The head coach said that although the team is halfway to the playoffs wins-wise, they still have some tough competition ahead when they travel to Elwood-John Glenn tomorrow at 4:15 p.m., and then host Mount Sinai on Tuesday at 4 p.m.

Arline said her team would recover from the loss and use it to fuel them for their upcoming league matchups.

“We lost, and we’ll take it as a learning experience,” she said. “We’ll put what we’ve learned here into the game ahead. We try to keep a game-to-game mindset, so we’re just worried about the next opponent.”

Lievre also thinks his team will be more prepared moving forward. He liked some of what he saw, and hopes that if his team can execute, they’ll have a better shot of remaining in games against tough opponents.

“There were a lot of good looks and good shots I’d like to repeat again, we’ve just got to hope next time that they fall for us,” he said. “It’s one game; we’ll regroup and move on.”

A horseshoe crab no more than 4 years old. Photo by Erika Karp

The Brookhaven Town Board has officially backed Supervisor Ed Romaine’s push for a horseshoe crab harvesting ban at town parks and properties.

At a meeting on July 16, councilmembers unanimously supported a resolution that requests the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation close North and South Shore parks and underwater lands to horseshoe crab harvesting and recommends strategies to reduce the harvesting. State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) also spoke at the meeting and threw in his support for the effort, as it would help protect the crab population — which, according to some reports, has decreased.

“I support this resolution and encourage its passage and compliment the very fact that it has been initiated,” said Englebright, who chairs the Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Conservation.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, right, and a local fisherman, left, speak at a Brookhaven Town Board meeting. Photo by Erika Karp
State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, right, and a local fisherman, left, speak at a Brookhaven Town Board meeting. Photo by Erika Karp

In May, Romaine announced he would seek a horseshoe crab harvesting ban for areas within 500 feet of town-owned waterfront properties. Fishermen often use horseshoe crabs for bait, but the crabs are also used for medicinal purposes, as their blue blood, which is worth an estimated $15,000 a quart, is used in the biomedical and pharmaceutical industries to detect bacterial contamination in drugs and supplies.

Advocates for the ban have said the crabs, whose species is 450 million years old, play a vital role in the ecosystem, as birds like the red knot eat the crabs’ eggs.

Local parks covered within the town’s request include Port Jefferson Harbor; the western boundary of the Mount Sinai inlet; underwater lands and town-owned shoreline of Setauket Harbor; and Shoreham Beach.

The DEC already has bans in place at Mount Sinai Harbor and West Meadow Beach.

In addition, the town asked the DEC to consider mandating fishers to use bait bags and/or artificial bait; banning the harvesting of horseshoe crab females; and establishing full harvest bans several days before and after full moons in May and June — the crabs’ nesting season.

Those latter recommendations were not included in the original resolution, but were added after weeks of discussion on the issue.

Local baymen have said their livelihoods would be jeopardized by any further restrictions, and the seamen remained opposed to the resolution last Thursday. Many also disagreed with officials that the crab population was decreasing.

“If you were with us you would know the quantities are there,” Florence Sharkey, president of the Brookhaven Baymen’s Association, said at the meeting.

Sharkey added that alternative baits have been tried, but don’t work.

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine holds a horseshoe crab as he calls on the state to ban the harvesting of the crabs within 500 feet of town property. Photo by Erika Karp
Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine holds a horseshoe crab as he calls on the state to ban the harvesting of the crabs within 500 feet of town property. Photo by Erika Karp

Despite the testimony, the Town Board moved forward with resolution, which had been tabled for nearly two months. Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) called the decision a difficult one.

During public comment, Englebright invited the fishers to speak before his committee, as the state is wrestling with the issue as well.

The assemblyman introduced legislation in March that would impose a moratorium on harvesting horseshoe crabs and their eggs until 2021. While the bill wasn’t voted on in the last legislative session, a different bill, which outlines similar recommendations to the DEC regarding crab conservation and management, was approved.

Englebright said the law would be revisited in two years. He said he hoped the DEC would get better data on the crabs in the future as well.

While the state continues to grapple with the issue, Englebright noted the town’s requested ban is different, as it pertains to parkland.

“This is a park and public expectation is different than [at] the general shoreline,” he said. “A park is usually a place that animals have the opportunity to have refuge.”

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.