Saturday, October 29, 2005

Long Island Shellfish Wars, Past and Present

In April 1993 a lobsterman named Abel Miguel and his nephew, Luis Mendes, were in their boat pulling traps off Sands Point when another boat raced up to them. The three men in the other boat were wearing masks and carrying guns. They opened fire, hitting Miguel three times in the abdomen and groin. Mendes jumped overboard and avoided being shot. Police said Miguel was a victim of a territorial dispute among lobstermen.

Six or seven years earlier I had been in the bar of a restaurant on City Island, listening to a lobsterman brag about how he had pulled a shotgun on another lobsterman because the other guy had been moving in on his territory. Of course there are no legal territories -- anyone can legally trap lobsters anywhere in Long Island Sound that he wants. But over time informal territories get established. The men who shot Miguel were found guilty, but the convictions were overturned because of a judicial error; a second trial ended in a hung jury; at a third trial they were acquitted. Miguel recovered and returned to lobster fishing.

I thought of all this this morning when I read a story in Newsday about a clammer on Oyster Bay who was arrested for ramming his boat into another clammer's boat, causing the second guy to whack his head. The clammers were pissed off at each other because their boats' wakes were making it hard to work.

The guy who did the ramming is named Jeff Armstrong. Newsday reported:

"It's wasn't about a turf war," said Mike Aronsen, a Nassau police spokesman. "It's over a wake."

Investigators weren't sure who became most upset over the wakes....

Baymen unloading bushels of clams Friday at Oyster Bay's Theodore Roosevelt Park sympathized with Armstrong, blaming the incident on the other bayman, and said violent clashes on the water were rare.

"There are words. Usually everybody takes care of themselves, but you do get people who push hard. They're just being idiots," said one bayman, who declined to identify himself.

Brian Murphy of Huntington said "this stuff has been going on for years," even boats running into each other intentionally.

But he added that he hadn't heard of an incident like this recently. "It's been pretty quiet," Murphy said. "There's not many guys left in the business. It's too hard to make a living.

Amstrong was charged with second-degree assault and criminal mischief.


Post a Comment

<< Home

eXTReMe Tracker