WELCOME GUEST  |  LOG IN
clubhouse, east hampton, indoor, tennis, cornhole, bar, happy hour, bowling, mini golf
27east.com

Story - News

Sep 22, 2009 6:44 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Dead fish litter beach in Montauk, commercial fishermen blamed

Sep 22, 2009 6:44 PM

The carcasses of hundreds of striped bass washed onto the beach at Napeague Sunday afternoon, and there is speculation that commercial fishermen were to blame.

The fish began washing up shortly after noon on Sunday, according to several recreational fishermen who were in the area at the time. The dead fish were scattered in the ocean and on the sand along a stretch of beach east of Atlantic Drive, an area referred to as White Sands, for the resort of the same name on the beach there.

“It ran for a good mile,” said Dan Loos, who was driving along the beach Sunday afternoon. “There were three or four here and there in the surf and on the beach. It had to be a couple hundred at least.”

Some of the fish were still flopping weakly, Mr. Loos said.

Bill Fonda, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said on Monday that the agency had received several phone calls about the dead fish and that an environmental conservation officer investigated, but was unable to find any evidence. The officer drove west along the beach for 2 miles at about 5 p.m. on Sunday, Mr. Fonda said, and saw no signs of dead fish.

But the smell of rotting flesh was detectable by the drivers of cars traveling on Montauk Highway, a witness said.

“We could smell them before we saw them,” said Jane Lahr, who was walking on the beach near Atlantic Drive on Monday morning. The birds were “picking at them.”

Most who saw the dead fish were recreational fishermen who blamed commercial fishermen for the waste.

”More than likely, I would say, it was a gillnetter,” said Willie Young, president of the Montauk Surfcasters Association, a recreational fishermen’s group. “Sometimes they get selective. If you sell a bigger fish you get more and the season is long so you have a long time to do it so they dump the ones they don’t want to take.”

Some fishermen have been known to pick through a haul of fish, taking only the most valuable ones, and tossing the others overboard, even if they are dead, so that they won’t be counted toward their legal quota, a practice known as highlining.

Another explanation could be that trawl fishermen, or draggers, are permitted to keep only 21 striped bass per trip. If one of the many trawl boats working in the ocean off the South Fork were to get a large number of striped bass in its net, most of the fish would have to be thrown back, dead or alive.

Stuart Heath, a commercial fisherman from Montauk, said that the fish washed up on the beach on Napeague could not have been killed by one of the East Hampton fishing crews who harvest fish with gillnets from the surf because the beach in the area of White Sands is too narrow for surf boats to be launched by trucks. The gillnetting crews, who switched over from haul seining, are also extra careful not to leave any waste behind, he said, because of the criticism that their former netting practices drew from the public. Haul seine fishing was banned in 1987, but the crews have continued to use their trucks and surf dory gear to fish with gillnets.

“Those guys catch so much flack anyway, they don’t even leave a dead dogfish behind,” said Mr. Heath, who fished in Amagansett with one of the surf crews on Saturday and Sunday.

He said several gillnetters working from boats out of Shinnecock Inlet have been fishing for striped bass off the beach near East Hampton and Amagansett in recent weeks.

Gillnetters can select the size of fish they want to catch by using nets with different sizes of mesh. Gillnets snare fish that swim into them behind the hard plate of cartilage that covers their gills. State regulations require that a gillnet used for striped bass be at least 6 inches across, though most fishermen use 6.5 inch mesh or larger so that they catch only larger, more valuable fish.

Commercial fishermen are also restricted in the number of individual striped bass they can keep each year. Each fisherman receives a set number of tags that must be affixed to any fish they keep. This year striped bass license holders got 241 tags.

You've read 1 of 7 free articles this month.

Already a subscriber? Sign in

Sounds fishy.
By sunsetter (7), QUOGUE on Sep 22, 09 8:40 PM
OOOOOO 241 tags that might pay for the fuel for a week
21 fish a day big deal
you cant live on that
with the price of fuel
dock fee's ice boxes shipping costs
you wind up owing the market for your fish
i cant believe there is still such a thing as a commercial fisherman
that is great let the crabs and gulls eat the fish that your not able to keep
life as a fisherman on long island is over
and for those out there that are still afloat good luck and get out ...more
By JJ (4), hampton bays on Sep 23, 09 12:09 AM
Ya Know it could just be natures way!
By North Sea Citizen (568), North Sea on Sep 23, 09 7:00 AM
Ya Know it could just be natures way! The local fishermen over the years have had so much nonsense thrown at them from people that are cluless and have nothing more than time and LOTS of money to have parties for their Special causes...Its time they get educated on the cycles of fish and how predatory fish can and might very well be the cause!!!
By UNITED states CITIZEN (207), SOUTHAMPTON on Sep 24, 09 6:58 AM
Well put, JJ. Since I build houses & you work on a tug, but we were both raised to fish...

Instead of blaming the fisherman, the blame should be on NMFS. The laws are so wrong, based on erronious data, that that "Highlining" (a term that actually means top boat in the fleet, not discarding bycatch or juvenile fish) becomes a means of survival. The federal government has more people working at NMFS than there are commercial fishermen, passing laws that adversly affect the stocks. The large, ...more
Sep 24, 09 1:24 PM appended by Draggerman
Well put, JJ. Since I build houses & you work on a tug, but we were both raised to fish... Instead of blaming the fisherman, the blame should be on NMFS. The laws are so wrong, based on erronious data, that "Highlining" (a term that actually means top boat in the fleet, not discarding bycatch or juvenile fish) becomes a means of survival. The federal government has more people working at NMFS than there are commercial fishermen, passing laws that adversly affect the stocks. The large, mature(breeding) fish should not be targeted. they are the only hope for stock survival. IFQs (individual fishing quotas) are the way to go. Get 1000# for quota, catch it, make money by playing the market & only targeting species when the price is high. The role model would be the pacific halibut, which is governed by an International Commission (IPHC). Halibut stocks are growing since "openers" were stopped. The upside of that is that the population gets fresh Halibut year round. Blame not the gillnetters, draggers or longliners. Blame the garbage in, garbage out mentality of NMFS, passing laws that are just plain wrong. That way JJ's kids, my kids & all the other second, third & fourth generation fishermen on Long Island can make their living the way that they intended to.
By Draggerman (955), Southampton on Sep 23, 09 1:24 PM
1 member liked this comment
I live in Montauk, and am an actor and writer, not a fisherman, but the destiny of our town has always been intertwined with that of the independent commercial fisherman. This is a clear cut case where ill-informed, publicity-driven government regulation has all but destroyed an industry. Do we need jobs? Do we have ample fisheries? Save an endangered species: The Long Island Fisherman!
By FM (3), Montauk on Sep 26, 09 9:51 AM
Well put, FM. The National Marine Fisheries Service. Destroying Fishermans lives since 1973.
By Draggerman (955), Southampton on Sep 26, 09 6:58 PM
The NMFS are to blame for the dead bycatch, not the fishermen.
By RubyBaby (28), East Hampton on Oct 1, 09 7:49 AM
1 member liked this comment
Draggers do target striped bass. limmit should be nine fish to keep baots from targetting.
My friend worked on a dragger in Montauk they went to aplace called the sub Bouy and netted 3000 pounds of Striped bass in two hours. They had hunderds of tags on baord from other fisherman. It was worse than scane netting!

They should be able to do this once a year...but I guess that would drive down price of fish and flood market. Draggers thown 50-80 percent of all fish caught over dead.
By joey (1), montauk on Feb 2, 11 8:40 PM