East End baymen say they are an endangered species, and they want protection before they go extinct.
Daniel G. Rodgers, a Riverhead attorney representing about a dozen baymen in East Hampton Town, sent a letter to the Preservation League of New York State on Wednesday requesting "baymen and their skills" be added to the list of historic and cultural resources in need of saving.
The request comes on the heels of a decision in Maryland last month to add "watermen" to the Endangered Maryland List for 2012.
"My sense is this is probably a first and therefore quite intriguing," said Daniel Mackay, the director of public policy at the preservation league, on Thursday. With some experience skip jacking on the Chesapeake Bay, he said he understood the baymen's importance.
He said the request has been forwarded to those who oversee nominations for the "Seven to Save" annual list and that the department will be in touch with Rodgers.
The league recognizes seven historic sites and issues (Mackay said hydrofracking is on the 2012 list), but Rodgers said it was the only agency to turn to.
"It is a long shot? Absolutely," Rodgers said by phone on Thursday. "But, when you drill it down, it makes a lot of sense. We're hoping the league steps up."
"We find ourselves at a critical precipice in history," Rodgers said in the letter, released on Thursday. "Long Island’s baymen are being driven out of business," mainly due to imposed state and federal regulations.
Stuart Vorpahl, a former commercial fisherman, brought the recognition of Maryland's "watermen" to Rodgers' attention. "We're all being wrecked by a program of political genocide against commercial fishermen under the guise of conservation," he said. "We're the endangered species."
Rodgers said working in the bay waters is a dying profession. Regulations force those who grew up on the water to work several jobs to make ends meet and the younger generation isn't able to get licenses due to moratoriums, he said.
He called it "a generation gap on life support."
Rodgers represents several baymen, including the Lester family of Amagansett, who have found themselves over charges in recent years. They recently asked the .
Rodgers said a comment Nat Miller made to him about being taught by Calvin Lester really clicked. "You get learned in," Rodgers repeated.
"These tools are passed down through generations, from father and mother to sons and daughters," he wrote in the letter to the preservation league. "Simply stated, once gone, these men and women who have made their living for hundreds of years in the waters and bays of Long Island will never be replaced."
"If immediate action is not taken, we will lose forever an important piece of our historical and cultural heritage," he said.
The league "acts as a mobilizing force, helping community leaders and decision-makers to take action when historic resources are threatened," Rodgers said. He turns to its goal to “promote(s) historic preservation as a tool to revitalize our communities, celebrate our heritage, and enrich our lives.”
Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., I-Sag Harbor, said he had never heard of a group asking for such historic recognition from the league. "There's over three centuries of history here on the East End. Certainly it's worthy of recognition," he said. "Other than recognition, I'm not sure it provides them with anything else."
Rodgers said the baymen aren't looking for funding or grants, but for recognition for their cultural and historical importance.
If the league chose to recognize the baymen, Rodgers said, "It gives support to the idea that you can't just regulate the men and women into non-existence."