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Fishing

Staff members and volunteers at Frank Melville Memorial Park often have found animals with hooks caught in wings, beaks and legs, such as the swan above. Photo from Frank Melville Memorial Park

At Frank Melville Memorial Park, remnants of fishing gear have created a nuisance that has led to wildlife injuries and even death, even though the activity isn’t allowed at the private park.

Recently, a cygnet, above, drowned after becoming entangled in fishing line. Photos from Frank Melville Memorial Park

Recently, park personnel discovered a dead cygnet in the millpond. The young swan was pulled from the water, and it was entangled in a fishing line with a large lure hooked into its neck. Anita Jo Lago, the park’s wildlife coordinator, said most likely the cygnet, after becoming entangled in the fishing line, drowned.

“It was a rainy day so I think that’s what delayed people seeing it,” Lago said. “Finally, when the rain stopped, we had a park visitor who saw it and reported it. If it was a sunny day, we would have known earlier and maybe have been able to untangle it before it drowned.”

Lago called the death of the cygnet, who was just about to learn how to fly, horrific.

“It was so avoidable just with help and courtesy from fishers,” she said. “Please don’t fish, and when you do, have some responsibility.”

Lago visits the pond every day to check on the wildlife. The incident isn’t the first time that animals were injured after fishers left gear behind. Lago said there have been snapping turtles with lines around their necks and hooks up their noses. Many of the creatures also have ingested hooks and lure, and she said two years ago a heron’s leg was amputated from a line. Geese have been found wrapped in netting, and dogs regularly step on hooks during walks around the park. One time a cygnet’s chest was sliced by a fishing line to the point where the internal organs could be seen. She added that when ingested, fishing lines move up and down and sever an animal’s intestines.

“When bobbins are laying on top of the water, the cygnets go and they eat them,” she said. “They think they’re toys or food.”

The staff has conducted cleanups to rid the pond of debris and posted signs in the park and messages on social media forbidding fishing, but Lago said the fishers keep coming into the park to fish. She said the millpond is only 2 or 3 feet deep, which isn’t as deep as the average pond, so it means fishing lines just sit on top. Line also gets tangled in tree branches that she said are difficult to reach from land or even in a boat.

“I get very anxious when I see the wildlife swimming in that area, and they’re so fast,” she said. “They think that the lure is a leaf or piece of vegetation.”

At one time, fishing was allowed in FMMP. Kerri Glynn, director of education for the park, said in 2005 Phil Brady, at the time a junior in Ward Melville High School, asked her if the park could start an educational program to teach Boy Scouts how to fish responsibly, including keeping track of and cleaning up one’s gear.

“We had a fishing club run by a wonderful young man, and it definitely kept people on the straight and narrow for several years but then we started having these issues,” Glynn said.

She added that after Brady went to college, the club lasted a while longer but then ran its course. It was then that board members decided to prohibit fishing at the park, once again, due to lure and filament accumulating, and they would try to guide people to other spots where they could fish. She said it seems as if many fishers aren’t paying attention to what they leave behind.

Staff members and volunteers at Frank Melville Memorial Park often have found animals with hooks caught in wings, beaks and legs, such as the swan above. Photo from Frank Melville Memorial Park

“We were always aware it was problematic,” the park’s education director said. “We tried to deal with it in a responsible way, and in a way that allowed people to continue to fish as long as they were responsible fishermen. That didn’t happen. They just took advantage and didn’t pay attention to the rules or anything else, so that’s why we had to shut it down.”

John Turner, a local environmentalist and former director of Brookhaven Town’s Division of Environmental Protection, said he has seen similar situations on Long Island.

He said at many fishing locations such as Stony Brook, Port Jefferson and Mount Sinai harbors as well as West Meadow Beach there are filament receptacles. While fishing isn’t allowed at FMMP and there are therefore no containers, fishers can hold on to discarded fishing lines and then dispose of them the next time they go to one of the other locations. Turner said the filament is then collected and recycled into new fishing line.

He added that, besides a fisher disposing filament properly, there are ways to decrease the odds of having fishing line and bobbins getting caught in vegetation.

“It’s being aware of the environment around you and putting yourself in a place to fish that’s not likely to cause any entanglements or snares,” he said.

Turner said when people come across an animal in distress to try to move it to a quiet and sheltered place if possible and then call a wildlife rehabilitation center. He said it’s possible to help a small bird when a line is around its beak or limb by calming down the animal, holding the beak and cutting the line.

He added that it’s frustrating that many feel they don’t need to follow the rules of private parks such as FMMP when the foundation’s board is serving the community by making the grounds available to the public.

“These regulations and rules are put together thoughtfully and with recognizing that you’re trying to balance sometimes competing activities, competing uses, and you’re trying to strike a balance,” he said. “If the foundation says that fishing is not an activity that’s appropriate then the public needs to really respect that and not just decide to do what they want to do.”

The park’s board has asked that if people see anyone fishing in the park to call 631-689-7054.

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For Keith Buehler, guidance counselor at Port Jefferson Middle School, fishing and being out on the water was second nature to him growing up on Long Island. So when students came to him saying they wanted to start a fishing club at the school, he thought it would be a good opportunity to share his passion with others. 

“I loved the idea,” Buehler said. “I told them to get names and start a petition to start a new club.”

The middle school guidance counselor said the school principal, Robert Neidig, was very supportive of their efforts and helped in the process of getting the necessary paperwork to the district office. 

“You want to be a good role model for the kids, just getting out there and sharing one of your passions with them is fun.”

— Keith Buehler

The club has close to 70 students currently enlisted with both middle and high schoolers encouraged to join. 

Buehler said they had already started to have meetings and have begun to teach students the basics of fishing. 

“We were practicing casting and how to properly hold a pole,” he said. “Everyone has different levels of experience so right now it’s just about getting the equipment they need.”

Buehler, who fishes on his kayak at Smith Point Marina, as well as Rocky Point and Port Jeff, said through his connections from the local fishing community the club has received equipment and other items to get them started on future fishing trips. 

The Long Island Salt Savages, a Facebook group with over 3,500 members dedicated to fishing, donated poles, bait and other equipment to the club. 

“We’ve been very grateful for the support, they are a bunch of great guys,” Buehler said. “It really has given us a good foundation to start from.”

In addition, Buehler has gotten Soundview Heating & Air Conditioning, a business in Middle Island, to sponsor the club and will get T-shirts made for the students.  

Buehler said the reaction from students has been great and are excited to get out on the water. 

“I’m a morning fisherman, so I go out before school sometimes — some of the kids will see me with my fishing gear when I come in and they’ll ask me questions,” he said. 

Greg Gorniok, science teacher at Port Jeff High School and co-advisor for the club, said he believes the club is a great opportunity for students to get on the water. 

“It was a no-brainer,” he said. “Keith and I fish all the time; a lot of students have the same experiences [as us]…It’s nice to share that passion with them.”

Gorniok said another positive is that they are exposing students to the waters of Long Island. 

“It will be fun, the kids get to see you in a different light and you better connect with them,” he said. 

While the club will be predominately about fishing, Buehler said they also want to plan beach trips, local boat excursions, beach cleanups, focus on environmental and conservation activism, as well as bringing in speakers to talk to students. 

The adviser hopes to continue to expand the club in the future. They have begun to raffle off equipment to members who attend club meetings as well.  

The club plans to do its first beach/fishing trip of the fall on Oct. 24 at East Beach in Port Jefferson. Buehler said in the spring he wants to plan out more fishing trips and educate students on local and state fishing laws. 

“The students have been a big part of this,” Buehler said. “You want to be a good role model for the kids, just getting out there and sharing one of your passions with them is fun.” 

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. 

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

Long Island has become synonymous with shellfish farming, though in recent years it has become increasingly difficult for farmers to sell and market their products. 

With that in mind, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) launched a pilot program March 11 designed to remove the red tape to assist local oyster farmers by allowing vendors to expand their current retail opportunities. 

“Shellfish farming has been an important part of Long Island’s heritage for decades, and plays an important role in cleaning our waterways and promoting economic activity,” Bellone said. 

He will be introducing legislation to implement an annual temporary event permit for vendors of shellfish grown or harvested in Long Island waters. The permit will not include fees for the first two years. 

“The introduction of this legislation will go a long way in removing barriers that have made it difficult for our farmers to sell and market their locally sourced products,” the county executive said. 

Under current regulations, shellfish farmers must apply for a vendors temporary food service permit with the Suffolk County Department of Health Services before they can market and sell their products. The permits cost $95 and are valid only for a single event at a fixed location, with a 14-day limit. A permit’s time restriction makes it hard for shellfish farmers to participate in weekly and monthly events such as farmers markets and fairs. As a result, it limits a shellfish farmer’s ability to do business. 

“The introduction of this legislation will go a long way in removing barriers that have made it difficult for our farmers to sell and market their locally sourced products.”

— Steve Bellone

“The county’s aquaculture industry is vital not only to our Island’s history but to our economy as well,” said county Legislator Bill Lindsay (D-Bohemia), chairman of the Suffolk County Legislature Economic Development Committee. “This industry generates millions of dollars in revenue, supports our local restaurants and provides our residents with world-class locally grown products.”

In addition to improving the shellfish industry, the county will continue efforts to improve water quality and restore marine ecosystems.  

Past efforts include the 2010 aquaculture lease program. That program secured marine access for shellfish cultivation in Peconic Bay and Gardiners Bay to accommodate growth, while considering the needs of existing shellfish agriculture businesses. 

According to the county’s Department of Economic Development and Planning, the program’s total economic output from 2012 to 2017 was estimated at $13 million.

“Long Island’s farmers and aquaculture producers are grateful for this economic incentive proposal put forth by County Executive Bellone to help us market and sell our products direct to consumers,” said Rob Carpenter, administrative director of Long Island Farm Bureau. “It will keep jobs, increase sales tax revenue and continue all the associated environmental benefits the industry does for Long Island residents and our waters.”  

According to the Long Island Oyster Growers Association, local oysters filter approximately 900 million gallons of water every single day. Oysters improve waterways by eating algae, filtering out particulates and excess nutrients as well as creating habitats for other organisms.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin speaks up on behalf of local anglers at Mascot Dock in Patchogue April 8 to refuse the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission’s decision to cut the state’s sea bass allocation. Photo from Lee Zeldin’s office

Local anglers aren’t taking the marine fisheries commission’s bait.

After learning the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission decided it would cut New York’s sea bass allocation quota by 12 percent while increasing that of neighboring states, small business owners and local fisherman joined forces with politicians to make a plea in Patchogue.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) was with state Assemblyman Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue) April 9 at Mascot Dock to take what they called an aggressive stand against an unfair decision, saying the cut is coming even though black sea bass stock has rebounded — currently 240 percent greater than target biomass, or the volume of organisms in a given area. By issuing its own set of regulations for black sea bass fishing this season and entering into non-compliance, the state can take a stand against what many are saying is an inequitable decision that could further harm New York’s already struggling anglers.

“Going into non-compliance is never the first option, but it may be the only one in taking a stand for New York anglers who year after year continue to get screwed,” Zeldin said. “With the vast majority of Long Island fishing taking place in waters shared with New Jersey and Connecticut — such as the Atlantic Ocean and Long Island Sound — it is unfair that New York anglers are, once again, being penalized with smaller fishing quotas than neighboring states.”

He pointed to the fact that two boats fishing could be sitting next to each other with one allowed to catch up to double the amount of the others.

“The hard working recreational fishing community is rallied together in an attempt to keep New York anglers on par with its neighboring states,” said Huntington captain James Schneider. “The Sea Bass stocks are extremely healthy. This is a valuable resource for all the citizens to utilize, just like the corn in Iowa and oil in Alaska.”

Long Island’s largest one-day fishing event also took place at St. Joseph’s College the same day in Patchogue, bringing together fishermen and stakeholders of Long Island’s maritime economy from across the Island.

New York State plans to sue the federal government if it loses an appeal against the restrictions on the recreational fishery for black sea bass, state officials have said. Last year, the state of New Jersey successfully fought quota restrictions on fluke and won once going before the U.S. secretary of commerce.

“The people of the marine district of New York will not accept or endorse any options with a cut to our sea bass regulations in 2018,” Center Moriches captain Joe Tangel said. “The time is now for the state, it’s stakeholders, and our representatives to take a stand.”

DEC marine resources chief Jim Gilmore warned that noncompliance, if rejected by federal regulators, could lead to a shortened or eliminated season for 2019 if there is overfishing this year.

For those less fortunate who require meals provided by a Port Jefferson based soup kitchen, fresh-caught fish is a luxury. But thanks to the generosity and hard work of the crew of a charter fishing boat from Port Jeff and Welcome Friends, a soup kitchen that feeds as many as 75 people daily five times per week at local churches, that luxury became a reality.

The plan started with a phone call from Amanda Peterson, third-generation owner and captain of the Osprey Fishing Fleet. She reached out to Margaret Tumilowicz, president of Welcome Friends, and asked if her guests would enjoy fresh fish to be caught and donated by her customers on a June 12 fishing trip. The company offers seats on one of their two charter ships — the Osprey and Osprey V — for day trips into the Long Island Sound to catch fluke, porgies, bluefish, striped bass, sea bass and blackfish, depending on what’s currently in season. Typically a few dozen people are on board for a given trip, and they’re allowed to take home up to 30 fish each. This time, everyone on board was there to catch fish for people in need.

Peterson said in a phone interview she got inspiration from a trip she had taken with the Lady Reelers fishing club, a local group that at least once a year donates all of their catch from an outing to the food bank Long Island Cares. This was the second attempt at a massive catch-and-donate plan, after the first in the fall fell through due to bad weather. Peterson explained why she decided she wanted to hold a similar event to the Lady Reelers’ with her business.

“It’s such a great way to give back to the community,” Peterson said. “We’re a business that’s solely supported by the community. We want to find different ways to say thank you for keeping us in business.”

On June 12, about 35 fishermen and women lined up on the dock at the Port Jefferson Marina to help the worthy cause. Visitors of Welcome Friends weren’t alone in receiving a special meal though, as the participants of the trip were also instructed to bring $25 worth of nonperishable food items to be donated to Maryhaven Center of Hope Catholic Health Services or $25 worth of dog food for the Brookhaven Town Animal Shelter. The only other fee for prospective fish catchers was $10 to offset the costs of bait and fuel for the charter.

Members of Peterson’s crew were on board to donate their time to help catch the fish, as well as filet and debone them. The trip yielded more than 1,000 porgies in about an hour and a half. The arduous task of prepping the fish for cooking took the crew of the Osprey about five hours.

“I understand going without, so it’s good to take that feeling away for somebody,” deckhand for the Osprey Fleet Travis McRae said in an interview. He joked it was easy to convince people to attend the event because everyone likes fishing.

Tumilowicz reiterated it’s a rarity for guests to have the opportunity to enjoy a dinner of fresh-caught fish.

“It makes me feel really good,” Peterson said when she heard Tumilowicz had said that.

The soup kitchen president tried to put into words what the generous gesture meant to her.

“Can you imagine — god bless them,” she said. “We cannot say enough to describe the incredible generosity of Captain Amanda and her outstanding crew as well as their customers. Because the Greater Port Jefferson community supports our soup kitchen and other like-minded local organizations, we are able to provide for our neighbors in need.”

Tumilowicz said the bounty would provide about 500 meals for needy members of the community. Once the fish were caught and fileted, Welcome Friends’ team of volunteers, including cook Arty Shertzer, Mickey Cantwell and Tumilowicz’s husband Bob prepared the meals and bagged and froze fish for future meals.

One more positive outcome came from the June 12 outing. A three-year-old pit bull named Bella who was in need of a home at the Brookhaven Animal Shelter was brought aboard for the trip and was since adopted by Eddie McRae, who was on the charter that night. Peterson said about 1,000 pounds of dog food and 500 pounds of canned goods were also part of the yield.

Photo by Charles Shemet

Photo by Charles Shemet

Catch of the Day!

Eric Huner of East Setauket and owner/operator of Captain Fish Port Jefferson, a fishing charter that runs out of Port Jefferson, caught this 35-lb striped bass Aug. 13. Using live bunker, Huner reeled in the striper at Stratford Shoals by the lighthouse in the middle of the Long Island Sound at sunrise.

Send your Photo of the Week to [email protected]

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Garret Warren, left, celebrates the largest fish ever captured at the tournament. Photo from Carole Paquette

By Joseph Wolkin

The bait came out and so did smiles across the faces of 43 children on Saturday, June 11.

The 14th annual Friends of Caleb Smith Preserve’s Junior Angler Fishing Tournament was a big catch for Smithtown’s youth. As the bait flew into the water, the kids battled one another to see who would catch the most fish, the largest pan one, along with the biggest “other” fish.

One of two natural preserves on Long Island, Caleb Smith State Park Preserve sits amidst 543 acres in Smithtown. Named after Caleb Smith, who was a judge for the Court of Common Pleas of Suffolk County, along with being a member of the state assembly in the 18th century, the property was dedicated in his name when it was acquired by the state in 1963.

At the end of the tournament, Garrett Warren, 11, came home with the largest fish of the day. Warren set a record for the largest fish caught in the tournament’s 14-year history, catching a 19.5-inch bass and shattering the previous record of approximately 15 inches.

“The fish cooperated and nearly every child caught a fish,” Tom Tokosh, president of the tournament, said. “Last year, we were in the neighborhood of maybe 32 [kids]. It goes year-to-year. I think we did better with marketing this year. I went to some trade shows and put flyers out and stuff.

“We also had a high participation rate. Last year, we had 25 people sign up for the afternoon session, but only 18 showed up. It depends on the weekend I think.”

10-year-old Erik Trovitch ended the day with the most fish caught, reeling in 17 creatures during the afternoon session for kids 9 to 12.

Parents were not allowed to help their children during the afternoon session. However, during the morning round, parents could cast the line, but the children needed to reel the fish in and bring them to shore.

During the morning session, which featured children from ages 5 to 8, 6-year-old Anderson Martinez won first prize for catching a morning-high 12 fish. Additionally, Veronica Leitner, 5, caught the largest “other” fish, bringing home a 14-inch bass.

“All of the fish were released,” Tokosh explained. “We might have hurt a few getting the hooks out, but basically, all of the fish were released. The kids had a great time, and it’s a good experience for them with their parents to bond and do stuff together.”

At the completion of the tournament, 204 fish were caught, measured and released, breaking the previous record of just under 200 fish caught during the tournament, according to Tokosh.

Among those also winning trophies were 9-year-old Gianna Valenti in the largest pan fish category and Brendan Lee-McGraw, 6, in the same section but during the morning round.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer speaks to fishermen in Northport. Photo from Marisa Kaufman

Black sea bass is back on the table, as of June 27.

After public outcry for an earlier start to summer sea bass fishing, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced this week the season will start 19 days earlier than the previous July start date.

The DEC has blamed federal regulations and management for the reasons behind originally closing the fishing season during June, despite plentiful numbers of bass.

“In spite of abundant populations, DEC is being forced to alter the commercial and recreational fishing seasons in order to meet federal quotas,” Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a statement. “By allowing for an earlier June opening, we’re trying to strike the best possible arrangement for the recreational fishing community.”

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for modifications to the summer fishing period last week at an event on the North Shore, speaking against what he called “inflexible” and “outdated” federal regulations for black sea bass fishing.

Fishing in Port Jefferson/photo by Elana Glowatz
Fishing in Port Jefferson/photo by Elana Glowatz

“After a slow start to the black sea bass season, mostly due to weather, our Long Island commercial fishers are ready to bounce back and access the plentiful supply of sea bass,” Schumer said at the event. “But instead they might fall flat if the feds and the state don’t throw them a line and let them do what they do best — fish.”

And Long Island fishermen said the July start date was hurting their livelihood.

“It’s a disaster for conservation and the economy,” said James Schneider, a boat captain in Huntington. “It’s crushed us.”

Schneider is catching other fish since the last black sea bass season ended on May 31, and said he has been forced to throw back the bass he inadvertently catches. Those die shortly after, he said, further contributing to a loss in potential profits.

Some fishers were also upset that Connecticut’s black sea bass season, which opened on May 1 and runs through Dec. 31, allowed fishermen to start earlier than in New York, as they share a body of water in the Long Island Sound.

Sean Mahar, the DEC director of communications, last week acknowledged fishing got off to a slow start in New York. Through May 21, only one-third of the May quota had been harvested, “with approximately 42,000 pounds [still] available on May 21,” Mahar said in an email. “However, the harvest rate increased dramatically the last week in May,” and the DEC had to receive more population data before deciding to open the summer fishing season earlier than July.

Although fishermen like Schneider can now get back to bass fishing earlier, the DEC has also increased the minimum size of the bottom feeders caught by 1 inch — making the new minimum length 15 inches — and reduced the daily possession limit from eight fish to three. However, that latter change will only affect the fishing season through August, so fishermen can have up to eight in September and October, and 10 in November and December.

According to the DEC, it also considered a July 8 opening with a five-fish limit, but anglers opted for the earlier start with a three-fish limit for a longer season.

Fishers can now catch black sea bass earlier this summer, but the minimum fish length has increased an inch and the number they can catch is limited for the first month.

The DEC also said the federal government’s population assessment of sea bass has caused scientists to “exercise extreme caution when determining harvest limits,” which has forced New York to reduce sea bass harvest despite an “abundance of fish.”

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is one of three organizations that jointly manage black sea bass fishing, by determining the quota for sea bass each year. The quota this year was set at about 189,000 pounds.

Kirby Rootes-Murdy, that commission’s senior fishery management plan coordinator, said obtaining accurate population data on black sea bass poses a challenge because black sea bass are a hermaphroditic species, meaning they change sex from male to female.

“The reproductive life history characteristics … of black sea bass make it difficult to develop an accurate abundance estimate, ultimately limiting the ability to develop reliable catch limits,” he said in an email. “Assessment scientists are working hard to develop models to address these issues facing black sea bass management.”

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Event organizers and participants come together for one big group photo during the event. Soldiers on the Sound has been an annual celebration of thanking American heroes. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

On Saturday, the St. James community continued to show their appreciation toward active members of the military as the eighth annual Soldiers on the Sound Fluke Fishing Tournament hit the waters of Smithtown Bay.

Since 2009, the tireless efforts of the event’s organizers – all volunteers – make for a day of gratitude for those in uniform, camaraderie and smiles, and, of course, friendly competition out on the fishing boats. With each passing year, the event gets bigger and better, drawing in more boats, contributors and donations, to help give back to those service men and women who sacrifice their lives everyday. This year’s tournament was its biggest yet, drawing 61 boats, all donated and hosted by local captains and mates, and 150 registered soldiers, representing the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and the 106th Rescue Wing of the New York Air National Guard based in Westhampton.

After fishing, all soldiers returned to the Smithtown Bay Yacht Club, where they were treated to a large barbecue, a hot food buffet and a slew of raffle prizes generously paid for by companies and individual donors. The prizes included gift cards, coolers, speakers, 40” flat screen TV’s, Billy Joel tickets and a weekend vacation at the Hawks Cay resort in the Florida Keys, to name a few.

According to the event’s president and founder, Mark Garry, the only thing asked of the soldiers is that they have a good time.

“That’s what it’s all about – everybody hugging and high fiving, and thanking us sincerely,” he said. “They’re gonna go and eat like rockstars. We buy 800 cigars to give them. They have food, sodas, beers. It’s good, it’s very simple and rewarding.”

Photo by Kevin Redding
Photo by Kevin Redding

The conception of the event hit Garry when he was watching war coverage on the yacht club TV and saw soldiers reduced to lying in the sand, resting their heads on their helmets. He immediately went to work, focused on honoring those currently serving our country and giving them something relaxing to come home to. It didn’t take long for he and his “army” of volunteers to get the event underway, calling on everyone from military liaisons to boat captains to fundraisers.

“I’m retired Air Force and I knew the unit out in Westhampton,” said Skip Heine, the only founding member with a military background. “Mark called on me and we invited them the first time and they’ve been involved since. It’s great because back in the Vietnam days, you were not revered at all by the public, so it’s nice to see the people that protect get the recognition.”

Even though he didn’t have the best of luck catching fluke, active Marine Felix Torres was grateful for the event.

“To me personally, I feel like this is a great thing,” he said. “To have whole bunch of soldiers and Marines and Navy guys all go out together and fish, have a good time…it just shows how together we all are.”

The winning fluke of 6.4 pounds was caught by Captain Andy Smith and his boat crew, which included Air Force Mjr. Jesse Fritz and Tech Sgt. Nathan Dean.

“We’re very fortunate to have a community-based program like this,” Fritz said. “Being a military member out here on Long Island, there is not support like this everywhere so it’s amazing to be part of something like this, to be part of the community and see the support. Yes, it’s a fishing tournament and it’s fun but it means so much to see the support and how it all ties into the community. We’re very grateful.”