Hurricane relief efforts have been well underway throughout Long Island since Superstorm Sandy hit back in late October, but commercial fishermen in East Hampton are hoping for some hurricane relief of their own.
The baymen said the ravenous weather from the hurricane and the nor'easter that quickly followed wreaked havoc on their striped bass fishing season, which comes to a close on Saturday. Many fishermen haven't filled their state-issued tags yet, even though only four days remain in the striped bass season.
They have begun to lobby Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office and the State Department of Environmental Conservation, the regulatory authority, for an extension so that they can have a "fighting chance," Nat Miller said, to make the money the season usually brings.
On Tuesday, the East Hampton Baymen's Association lent its support to the effort and is requesting a one month extension for the commercial striped bass fishing season.
"We're not asking for a handout. We're just looking for an opportunty to do our jobs as fishermen," said Miller, a commercial fishermen who also serves as an East Hampton Town Trustee.
Bonnie Brady, the executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fisherman's Association, said in light of Sandy, the request for an extension is reasonable. "It's a regulated, limited amount caught via tags, only those fishing commercially with tags can fish them. If the tags aren't used, they cannot roll them over into the following year, so it's lost income," she said.
Each commercial fishermen gets a set of 210 tags, which lock into the caught fish's gills, to use between July 1 and Dec. 15. Miller said with an average fish weighing 10 pounds, that represents between $7,000 and $9,000 in income — one fifth to one quarter of his annual income. "That's a lot," Miller said on Tuesday.
Miller, who fishes with a dory and a net, fishes with a group of about five and he said there's 400 to 500 tags between them still left to be filled. He personally only has 30 tags left to be filled, but some of his fellow fishermen have much more.
"The storm, with the weather, the waves, the wind and the storm surge, you can't get out there and fish," Miller said, adding that they lost 4 to 5 days before the hurricane hit and then, in some cases 2 to 3 weeks total. Also, he said the pressure change, on top of already warmer waters, causes the striped bass to migrate differently.
"Thank god for the scallop season this year," said Danny Lester, an Amagansett baymen. "Striped bass has been horrible," he said. "The weather screwed us up big time."
The nor'easter, according to Lester, caused even more damage on the beaches than the hurricane did, which made it difficult to launch his dory.
He said the wholesale price — as much as $6 per pound, he said — for striped bass has remained high throughout the fall because it's been so scarce.
Charlotte Sasso, who owns Stuart's Seafood Market in Amagansett with her husband Bruce Sasso, said she is placing calls on behalf of the fishermen. "It's a win-win for everyone. People want striped bass for their holiday table," she said.
"Fish don't know dates," Miller said.
The fishermen have long believed the season is too short, particularly as the waters get warmer and the fish migrate south later and later. Meanwhile, the recreational fishermen can catch up to two fish for 200 days of the April 1 to Dec. 10 season.
Assembylman Fred W. Thiele Jr., I-Sag Harbor, said on Tuesday afternoon that an exention is "something I would strongly support." He said he would reach out to Sen. Ken LaValle, R-Port Jefferson, and he hoped they would jointly make a request on behalf of the fishermen.
Asked how long getting an exension might take, Thiele said, "If the Governor wanted to do something they could do something pretty fast," under emergency relief from the storm. "On the flip side, I'd say, they sure close the fisheries fast on these guys. I'd hope they'd do the same on the other side."
"Everybody is talking about Sandy relief," Sasso said. "This won't cost any money. This is an easy way to do something for the fishermen."
Leo suggested that for those who want to lend their support to the fishermen's plea to call Thiele's office at 631-537-2583 or DEC Marine Bureau Chief Jim Gilmor's office at 631-444-0430.
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