Friday, July 06, 2007

Men's Lives: A Look at Traditional Fishermen on Long Island's East End

This is an old story but compelling nonetheless: traditional fishermen say they can’t make a living because of government restrictions, while government officials say that if they don’t restrict the amount of fish that are caught, there will be no fish left. Not only that but rich people want to monopolize the shoreline and the coves to amuse themselves.

This time it’s the eastern Long Island fishermen that Peter Matthiessen wrote about in Men’s Lives. A newTimes story out this afternoon on its website (here) talks about a pound net fisherman named Brad Loewen, but also manages to work in some terrific East End color and lore:

Many Bonackers say they have an inherited right to fish these waters, since their families were doing so well before the formation of the state or federal governments. Stuart Vorpahl Jr., for example, said he never got a fishing license because the government has no right to issue them, citing early colonial era edicts kept in the town library that give stewardship of the waterways to the East Hampton board of trustees.

Mr. Vorpahl was repeatedly fined and arrested in the 1990s for fishing without a license. Each time he was stopped, he pulled out a laminated copy of the Dongan patent, the 17th-century edict signed by the King of England’s governor-in-chief of New York. Then he took the town to court, and prosecutors dropped several rounds of charges. But after a 1998 arrest was upheld, Mr. Vorpahl — who says he can talk to crows and ends conversations with the Bonac expression “Yes, yes, bub,” — retired.

Commercial fishermen are an irresistible subject, and traditional fishermen even more so. In ’88 or ’89 I spent a morning with Dan Dzenkowski, one of Brad Loewen’s pound netting colleagues from the north fork, Greenport in particular. I cut it from my book at the last minute but liked it enough to put it on my other blog, here.



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