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HUntington Harbor

Juvenile clams maturing in Brookhaven’s hatchery. File photo by Alex Petroski

The Town of Huntington and the State Department of Environmental Conservation have separate rules and regulations related to shellfishing, which may confuse some people. Erica Ringewald, a spokesperson for the DEC agreed to answer a few general questions about shellfish harvesting in local bays and harbors. 

Are diesel boats dredging or sail dredging in Huntington Harbor and have they “stolen” millions of dollars’ worth of clams and oysters? Does the state punish this? 

The Town of Huntington has jurisdiction over the method of shellfish harvesting in town waters, which comprise Huntington Bay, Hunting Harbor, Centerport Harbor and Northport Harbor. Shellfish harvesting, regardless of method, is prohibited by DEC in Huntington Harbor, which is closed to the taking of shellfish year-round. 

Has shellfish dredging been identified as a problem?

DEC’s Division of Law Enforcement responds to a few complaints each year, particularly in winter, and often works with the Town of Huntington to investigate depending on the type of complaint made and where the alleged harvesting may be taking place. DEC has not received reports of the illegal harvest of millions of dollars of shellfish at this location.

Fines for violations include: 

First offense for taking shellfish in closed section ranges from $250 to 1,000 (misdemeanor) and value of shellfish illegally taken can be added to the fine. First offense for taking shellfish by mechanical means ranges from $250 to 1,000 (misdemeanor) and the subject could lose the boat and all equipment. In addition, two convictions within a five-year period would result in mandatory license revocation and an administrative suspension of up to 6 months.

Are there different rules and catch limits for commercial vs. recreational shellfish harvesting? 

No permit is required for recreational shellfish harvesting from state lands. Local towns have additional restrictions on catch limits, size limits, season, type of gear and may require residency and additional permits. Recreational harvesters are required to check with the local town they are harvesting from for specific information.

Commercial shellfish harvesters are required to obtain a New York State Shellfish Digger Permit. This permit allows only the permit holder to harvest, cull, sort or tag clams, oysters, mussels and scallops taken from certified or open waters for commercial purposes. An additional Shellfish Digger Vessel Endorsement is required to allow a Shellfish Digger Permit holder to endorse his or her permit to a single vessel which covers all people on board the vessel while harvesting, culling, sorting or tagging hard clams and oysters. For state shellfish harvest limits visit www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/29870.html.

How long has shellfishing been prohibited in Huntington Harbor?

Huntington Bay is certified (open) for the harvest of shellfish. Approximately 50 percent of Huntington Harbor (southernmost portion) was closed to shellfish harvesting in 1975. The harbor was entirely closed to shellfish harvesting by 1986. For information on shellfish closures in Huntington Harbor, refer to www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/103483.html#Huntington_Harbor11.

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. 

Huntington Harbormaster Fred Uvena gives a tour of accident-prone sites. File Photo by Kyle Barr

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) decided to postpone voting on the town’s new mooring policy after the May 29 public hearing on the issue at Town Hall. 

“The supervisor felt the board needed additional time to contemplate the code changes and accompanying rate increases,” said Lauren Lembo, public information officer for Lupinacci, in response to an email inquiry.

The Wednesday afternoon meeting attracted a large number of speakers opposed to the changes.  Many complaints centered on the additional fees and insurance requirements.  Residents who spoke thought that visiting yachts should be responsible for absorbing additional costs, rather than taxpaying residents. 

The proposed mooring resolution as currently drafted aims to accomplish the following:

• Prevent irresponsible boat ownership and irresponsible boating.

 • Place liability for all costs incurred by the town in removing, storing and disposing of unseaworthy and wrecked vessels on the owner or person responsible for the vessel. 

 • Increase required insurance limits for vessel wreck removal and pollution mitigation; assure those who have concerns that this will, in fact, not require the Town to be named as an additional insured.

 • Lower the cost of transient commercial mooring permits from $200 to $40 to help the local maritime economy.

• Allow the 40 or so commercial baymen who operate in Huntington’s waterways to have their mooring permit included with the issuance or renewal of their commercial license, making it easier to do business in the Town of Huntington.

• Establish a nominal $40 season permit fee to be deposited into the board of trustees account. Non-residents already pay $200 for the same season permit to help cover the costs of vessel wreck removal, pollution mitigation, and remediation of navigational safety hazards.  The fees would also be used to help fund building a database to help the town identify who owns the boats on town moorings in the harbor, so the town can hold violators responsible for hazardous boating safety conditions.

“Our maritime and harbormaster staff often remove debris from the water—dislodged docks from Connecticut, wrecked and abandoned vessels in our own waterways and other hazards that can cause harm to life and property near our shorelines,” Lupinacci said at the meeting. “The town spent over $50,000 last year removing derelict and abandoned boats in an effort to keep the harbor safe to navigate and protect our water quality. Taxpayers should not be on the hook for the consequences of irresponsible boat ownership.”

More than $1 million in foundation renovations have been completed despite challenges

Huntington ligthhouse. Photo from Pam Setchell

The jewel of Huntington Harbor will be opening its doors to welcome visitors for the first time in more than two years.

The Huntington Lighthouse Preservation Society, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the structure, will offer its first tour of the lighthouse July 15 after completing $1.1 million in repairs. A ribbon cutting ceremony is scheduled for July 11 to celebrate the structure’s reopening.

“It’s been a very long two years,” said Pamela Setchell, president of the preservation society. “We keep walking around pinching ourselves that we did it. We did it. We’re thrilled out of our minds.”

“We keep walking around pinching ourselves that we did it. We did it.”

– Pamela Setchell

Tours of the lighthouse will be offered by volunteers on a first-come, first-serve basis from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. once a month. Guests must be wearing flat, rubber-soled shoes to board the boat, according to Setchell.

The nonprofit organization last offered a tour of the historic landmark in September 2015 before the building was closed for phase one of restoration efforts to its exterior foundation. The lighthouse was in danger of becoming unstable and crumbling into the water.

Frank Scobbo, vice president of Port Washington-based Scobbo Foundation Systems, was hired as the contractor to shore up the 100-year-old structure.

“It was a labor of love, commitment and dedication to get the jewel of the harbor repaired,” Scobbo said.

He and his approximately 10-person staff took on the daunting task of replacing the damaged rebar, or steel reinforcement, in the lighthouse’s foundation, patching sheetrock and concrete in the underwater structure.

“The sheer location was one of the primary issues,” Scobbo said.

Working on a building located a mile offshore, the contractor said extensive pre-planning was necessary to account for the tides, currents and changing weather conditions each day. In 2016, a sudden squall sent waves crashing over the deck of a barge full of stone for the lighthouse’s base, causing it to take on water, according Scobbo. It required a rapid response of two Huntington Bay constables, Stephen Taylor and Timothy Lutz, and Scobbo’s crew to prevent the boat from sinking.

“It was a labor of love, commitment and dedication to get the jewel of the harbor repaired.”

– Frank Scobbo

“It was very scary, it probably took a couple of years off my life,” Scobbo said.

All supplies and equipment needed to be transported out via boat and a single forgotten item could have meant a 45-minute trip back to shore, according to the contractor. Scobbo said these challenges made the lighthouse’s restoration one of the most difficult projects he’s ever worked on, having previously repaired Stepping Stones Light in Nassau County and restored a 200-year-old Times Square building.

The Huntington Harbor Lighthouse still requires some additional work, according to the contractor, including the placement of more boulders on the east side of the structure and window replacements.

“They have a lot of work to do, but now the most important part is done,” Scobbo said.

The cost of the project was paid for through approximately $740,000 fundraised by the preservation society that was used to secure a matching $250,000 state grant, and a $145,000 grant received from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation in September 2017.

Those interested in taking a tour of Huntington Harbor Lighthouse can find a full list of tour dates on the preservation society’s website at www.huntingtonlighthouse.org/tours.php. Tickets cost $20 per adult, $15 for seniors and $10 for children age 5 or older, with family discounts available. Children younger than age 5 are not permitted due to safety issues and insurance concerns.

Huntington Harbormaster Fred Uvena gives a tour of accident-prone sites. File Photo by Kyle Barr

Suffolk County Police Department’s Marine Bureau officers rescued two boaters who were stranded on the rocks at Huntington Lighthouse in Huntington Harbor.

The Huntington harbormaster requested assistance from Suffolk County Marine Bureau for a boat that had become lodged in the rocks by the Huntington Lighthouse June 17 at approximately 8 p.m. Marine Bureau officers Terence McGovern and Kevin Yoli responded aboard Marine Bravo.

The officers tied a line to the stern of the 38-foot sailboat in an attempt to free it. A boat from Sea Tow arrived and workers secured a second line to the mast of the boat and rolled it on its side allowing Marine Bravo to pull it away from the rocks to safety.

After the boat was freed from the rocks, officers did a visual inspection of the boat and conferred with the boat’s owner, Jorge Schneider, 71, of Huntington. It was determined the boat was undamaged and Schneider and a female passenger were unharmed. The pair remained aboard the sailboat and were escorted by Sea Tow to shore.

Huntington Harbormaster Fred Uvena gives a tour of accident-prone sites. File Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

As Huntington boat owners get ready to pull up anchor and head out for the start of the season, town officials and maritime police emphasizing boating safety and a plan to crack down on drunk boating.

“Across Long Island and the entire state, boating accidents and deaths have been increasing the last few years,“ Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said. “At the local level, the coast guard and the
local marine units have noticed fewer boaters wearing life jackets, and general inattention to the rules of the waterways.

Across Long Island and the entire state, boating accidents and deaths have been increasing the last few years.”
– Chad Lupinacci

Lupinacci was joined by Huntington Harbormaster Fred Uvena, members of the Huntington Bay Constable and members of the Suffolk County Marine Bureau at a May 24 press conference where they called for stricter enforcement of speed limits inside Huntington Harbor, awareness of small craft in local waters and a crackdown on boating while intoxicated.

In 2017, there were more than 650 deaths across the country involving boating incidents, according to a report by the U.S. Coast Guard. There were 19 fatal accidents, resulting in 22 deaths, and more than 70 people injured in New York. The overall number of boating-related deaths is less than in 2016, but still represents a general increase over the last few years. The report said that there were 12 boating accidents in the state in which alcohol was found to be a contributing factor, which resulted in one death and 16 injuries in 2017.

“When you come down and get in your boat, the biggest thing we emphasis is common sense,” Uvena said.

The harbormaster emphasized that every boat should have life jackets for every passenger, that boat owners should check their fuel, flares and radio when boarding and that those in charge of the boats should know not to drink and pilot their craft.

There are multiple high-risk areas across Huntington Harbor and all the way out into the entrance to Long Island Sound, according to Uvena, He pointed out that hot spots for incidents include the private beaches along the harbor that host many canoers, paddle boarders and other small craft. There are also the hazardous areas full of protruding rocks along the beach near Huntington Harbor Lighthouse and an area commonly called The Box close to the Northport Power Station.

When you come down and get in your boat, the biggest thing we emphasis is common sense.”
– Fred Uvena

Over the past five years, Uvena said he has seen incidents involving kayakers and paddle boarders increase along with the surge in these activities’ popularity in Huntington. The harbormaster said that they are so low to the water that boaters who fly too fast, too close to the shore have the possibility of clipping them or running over them completely. The U.S. Coast Guard’s statistics show that canoe and kayaks had the second highest total death count at 152 compared to 323 in open motorboat.

”Boaters need to take heed of their speed in the middle of the bay,” Uvena said.

The Harbormaster office is receiving new buoys that have LEDs built in to be more easily seen at night. Uvena expects to receive them by the end of the year, but as the boating season kicks off, the harbor constables can only advise boaters on the dangers of speeding in the harbor and of drinking and boating. Those individuals who are found guilty of boating while intoxicated can face stiff penalties. On the first offense, an individual can receive from a $300 to $500 fine and 15 days in jail; additional offenses result in harsher fines and longer jail time. However, under current law a boating while intoxicated charge does go on a driver’s license or go onto the pilot’s record like a driving while intoxicated in a car would.

Deer Park resident Gina Lieneck has firsthand experience with the potential dangers of boating. In August 2005, she and her family were spending the day tubing off the coast of Fire Island. They were heading back to Bay Shore Marina when out of the dark, another boat approached them from behind at top speed. Lieneck and her husband were severely injured by the boat and its propeller, but her 11-year-old daughter Brianna was killed where she was sitting on the starboard side.

“We need to make this change, and make it now.”
– Gina Lieneck

If a boater is born on or after May 1, 1996, they are required to have a safety certificate to operate a boat, otherwise there is no certificate or license required for any noncommercial boater in New York. Lieneck has been making the long trek to Albany every week for the past three months to lobby for Brianna’s Law, that would require all operators of power-driven boats to take an in-person boating safety class inside state coastal waters.

“We need to make this change, and make it now,” Lieneck said. “We’re not decreasing in accidents, we’re increasing, and we need to think about the safety of everybody on our waterways.”

Uvena said that approximately 300 people attended the three previous safety courses required for prospective boaters under the age of 21, but he said he supports a law that would require similar courses for older boaters. Lupinacci, who before becoming supervisor served as state assemblyman for New York’s 10th District, said he expects Brianna’s Law to get bipartisan support.

“It’s about time that things need to get done about boating safety,” Lupinacci said.

File photo

Police assisted a Commack man on Sunday afternoon after he could not get back onto his boat and was struggling in the water in the Long Island Sound, a mile and a half north of Eaton’s Neck Point.

At about 4:30 p.m. on July 12, police said Russell Giannotti and his wife Kim Giannotti anchored their boat to fish when their fishing line became tangled in the boat’s propeller. Giannotti, 63, went overboard to clear the tangled line. When he attempted get back on the boat, his boarding ladder broke and he became stranded in the water. His wife threw him a life jacket and a rope but he was unable to put the life jacket on while in the water — although he was able to hold on to it for flotation. The Commack resident ended up becoming entangled in the rescue rope and started to struggle in the water.

A passing boater observed Giannotti in distress and called 911. The boater was unable to assist due to choppy sea conditions, but was able to give the victim’s location to police dispatchers. Two Marine Bureau vessels, a Suffolk County Police helicopter, the U.S. Coast Guard and Huntington Harbormaster Marine 3 responded to the search area.

Marine Bureau Section Officers Christopher DeFeo and Anthony Sangimino responded in Marine Bravo and were the first rescuers on scene. They were directed to the victim’s location via Marine VHF radio by the nearby boater, and once they positioned their boat close to Russell, they threw him a life ring, and pulled him aboard the Marine Bravo. On board, the officers treated him for exposure and transported him to the Soundview Boat Ramp in Northport, where they were met by rescue personnel from the Northport Fire Department. Giannotti refused medical attention for exposure and minor abrasions.

Huntington Harbormaster Marine 3 took the victim’s boat in tow. The victim was eventually reunited with his boat and his wife, and both were able to return to Huntington Harbor, on their boat, without assistance.