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Apr 27, 2010 6:20 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Fishermen plan civil disobedience

Apr 27, 2010 6:20 PM

Some day late this June, 20 people from the East End who aren’t fishermen plan to go down to the sea, catch three porgies apiece, and bring them to Stuart’s Seafood Market in Amagansett.

There, in a large parking lot beside the market’s packing house, they will place those porgies in 20 shipping containers filled with ice, and mark them to be sent to the Fulton Fish Market.

If all goes as planned, the media and other notable community members will be on hand to watch as the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, whose law enforcement branch will also be invited, tickets or arrests the participants.

The act is meant to draw attention to restrictions that are squeezing the life out of fishermen at a time when many men who work at sea say that they are seeing record numbers of fish in the water.

The East Hampton Baymen’s Association decided last week to go ahead with the protest, just months after two of its members, Paul and Daniel Lester, were arrested and charged by the DEC with several felony counts of taking either too many porgies and flounder or taking those fish out of season.

Attorney Daniel Rodgers, who is representing both men, plans to bring their case to trial, and a court date for both was adjourned at the request of the DEC last Thursday morning. They are due in court again on June 24.

“We are seeking to find 20 people in the community,” said Baymen’s Association member Arnold Leo, who is helping to organize the protest.

Mr. Leo said that many commercial fishermen have already been cited with violations, and will risk losing their licenses and impoverishing their families if they participate in the protest.

“We have already found some, including two ministers whose congregations have a lot of baymen, people who do not have commercial food fish licenses,” he said. “They will put three porgies into a shipping carton with ice, staple a shipping label onto that carton and the moment they do that, they will have violated the law.”

Mr. Leo said that the DEC has informed him that the maximum fine for sending three porgies to market without a food fish license would be $325.

The Baymen’s Association is no stranger to civil disobedience. In the 1990s, the group staged a protest by using haul seine nets on a beach in Amagansett, in which several people, including singer Billy Joel, were arrested.

“The purpose here is to make a public protest so that we draw the public’s attention to the fact that there are very serious problems for commercial fishermen. They’re being put out of work and fish markets are filled with fish from foreign fleets at time when we need the economic boost here.”

“We want to be careful not to say we support poaching as a way of living,” he added. “What we’re trying to do is draw attention to the fact that the situation is becoming so desperate and difficult that some fishermen get so frustrated that they step over the legal limit.”

Mr. Leo said that the protest is also meant to support a bill recently introduced in the U.S. Congress by Senator Chuck Schumer and U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, which would allow for more flexibility in the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

Mr. Leo and many other fishermen point to the fact that, because of extreme restrictions over the past decade, porgies have recovered to twice their sustainable levels and black sea bass populations are totally rebuilt. Even summer flounder is at 75 percent of its rebuilt level and populations are expanding, he said.

“These very restrictive management measures have been producing some results. Fishermen have been living with these fully restrictive measures, looking forward to the day when they can say the stocks have been rebuilt,” he said. “There’s widespread conception in the public that the fishermen want to go out and rape the sea. They don’t. They depend on the fish stocks for a living. But commercial and recreational fishermen both feel that fisheries are being managed in a far too restrictive manner.”

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I'm all for the protest ! You can't even get a food fish license.They are currently under moratorium along with crab , lobster and conch licenses.
By PrivateerMatt (390), Weesuck Creek , EQ on Apr 28, 10 3:24 PM
i am a recreational fisherman and i do not feel that "fisheries are being managed in a far too restrictive manner". In fact, i for one would like to see more enforcement and stricter regulations.
By fishy (92), East Hampton on Apr 28, 10 4:23 PM
When the regulations were first put into effect, they were needed, now that most of the species of fish have reached the targeted numbers it's time to relax the regs and let the fishermen, both recreational and commercial, harvest more! There needs to be some sanity in fisheries management and the flexibility in hte bill is a start. It's a crime that there is a moratorium on NY State food fish licenses , thanks DEC!
Do you know that the DEC answers to no noe? There are no elected members ...more
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Apr 29, 10 7:16 AM
1 member liked this comment
For men like these, men who's forfathers have built this very town and made it what it is, who continue to keep a culture older than our Nation alive and well, to be persecuted instead of honored, villianized instead of loved, is unfathomable in the eyes and hearts of many who live here; causing us to think "who is the real villian?" Is it really these brave families? In this day and age, man has more knowledge of the moon and neighboring planets than it does of the ocean and what's beneath, yet ...more
By RubyBaby (28), East Hampton on Apr 29, 10 4:39 PM
2 members liked this comment
They are going to be sorry when there is nobody left in the industry and they are paying $95 a pound at the market and $175 at a restaurant for fish
By GoldenBoy (351), EastEnd on Apr 29, 10 4:44 PM
cheap imported farmed fish.
By fishy (92), East Hampton on May 3, 10 3:49 PM
I think my name & Avatar pretty much say what I think.

NMFS- destroying fishing families since 1973.
By Draggerman (955), Southampton on Apr 30, 10 8:55 PM
By Draggerman (955), Southampton on Apr 30, 10 8:56 PM
yep, that is the problem. they are not YOUR fish!

Also, If there were no regulations or NMFS do you still think you would have any fish in your nets at all?

Self regulation in the commercial fishing industry, good one!
By fishy (92), East Hampton on May 3, 10 3:52 PM
Self regulation? Absolutely not. Regulation that makes sense for the biomass? ABSOLUTELY!. IFQ's. Like the Pacific Halibut. (Which is regulated by an international commission, not NMFS). My Net, my fish. The statement is more to point out that there is more discard because of regulations & stiff fines. There are laws that target the mature, breeding, fish population. There are laws based on bad science.

Could "sports" regulate themselves?
By Draggerman (955), Southampton on May 3, 10 7:40 PM
FONSKE! Ammagansett huh? When did you transplant here? If you've been around for any length of time you would know some of the folks who actually fish for a living and by talking with them would know that the regulations in place now are based on BAD SCIENCE. Of course regs are needed, but the ones we have now are not the way to go.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on May 4, 10 5:19 PM
1 member liked this comment
And yet, they didn't even procure the basic permits required to do any type of fishing. If they had at least tried to work with the system and decided that it just wasn't enough that would be one thing. Instead, out of season, no licenses. If the whole country ran off "well that's what my pappy did" we'd have a lot more issues then just a rapidly declining fishery.
By Slattery (3), Hampton Bays on Aug 1, 10 2:56 PM
If these guys want fish they should plan an action against the pesticide/herbicide industry, that is where the true problem lies.
By deKooning (106), southampton on May 5, 10 9:34 AM
good point. they should also plan an action against cheap imported farmed fish (which drive prices down), the high cost of fuel (which is not going to get any cheaper), increasing insurance and dock fees, etc, etc. oh an dont forget TAXES!

cost will continue to go up and revenues will continue to decline. what then? not exactly a growth business...
By fishy (92), East Hampton on May 5, 10 11:10 AM