After an onslaught of out-of-town fishermen, drawn by an abundance of porgies and no parking restrictions, forced the closure of North Sea Beach Saturday night, Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman on Wednesday signed an emergency order restricting parking at town beaches and road ends to residents. The order is for five days but can be extended.
Town Police had, at first, sought to limit access by temporarily banning parking on the west side of North Sea Road from the edge of the beach for about a quarter-mile south, but when hundreds of people arrived Saturday night, choking the road with traffic, Police Chief Steven Skrynecki said it was clear more aggressive action had to be taken.
“The volume of people that were there and were continuing to arrive raised too many health concerns,” the chief said. He said he was “comfortable” estimating the crowd as more than 250 people. Chief Skrynecki cited as his reasons for closing the beach both the social distancing required by state mandates aimed at containing the coronavirus and sanitation concerns that occur “when you get a lot of people on a beach for an extended period of time and an there are no bathrooms.”
Residents of the area have complained that the fishermen had been camping illegally or sleeping in their cars and had left behind piles of trash, including excrement and soiled toilet paper. Others were said to be taking undersized fish and fishing without licenses.
The vast majority, if not all, of the visiting fishermen were Latino, but residents who complained about the influx insisted that their ethnicity was not the issue.
Don Oliver, the vice president of the North Sea Community Association and a member of the North Sea Fire Department, said cars parked on both sides of the road made it impossible for a fire department vehicle to get to the beach to investigate reports of illegal fires. He said the beach and roadsides were left in a sorry state after each night of activity.
“Black, white, or Hispanic — that has nothing to do with it,” he said. “But when people come here and start shitting on the side of the road, I don’t like that.”
Starting Sunday, police began limiting beach access to 20 people at a time. Snow fencing had been erected to the west, blocking off a private beach owned by financier Louis Bacon, the owner of a large portion of Cow Neck and Robbins Island. Access to the east is cut off by a number of bulkheaded properties, leaving a small patch of beach available. Despite those limits, the chief said a long line of fishermen sat by the roadside on Sunday, some waiting for hours, hoping for a chance to fish.
Even before the town took action, the crowds had begun to spill over to other beaches. The Town Trustees closed the beach at Sebonac Inlet at 6 p.m. Saturday after it, too, was overrun, and there were reports of crowds of fishermen at Towd Point, at East and West Landing Roads in Hampton Bays, and along the Shinnecock Canal.
The supervisor said on Monday he would confer with the Town Board, the Trustees, and law enforcement officials to devise a strategy going forward. He said he would prefer a temporary crackdown that could be lifted as the pandemic eases, but he would be willing to entertain the idea of requiring town parking stickers at all beaches and road ends, if necessary.
The emergency order issued Wednesday requires that vehicles have resident beach parking stickers to park within 1,000 feet of any beach in town.
“We have to be careful that in responding we are not setting a precedent that bars people from access to public places,” he said, suggesting that a hybrid permit, valid only for parking at road ends and unprotected beaches and issued free of charge, may be the solution.
‘The Perfect Storm’
Supervisor Schneiderman speculated that fishermen were using a phone app or some other social media outlet to get up-to-the-minute fishing reports and accurate directions.
“It was the perfect storm, good fishing combined with the restricted ability to fish in other places,” Chief Skrynecki said of the circumstances leading to last weekend’s crisis. With New York City beaches closed and Nassau County and Suffolk County beaches closed to non-residents, and party boats idled at the docks, fishermen from the city had nowhere else to go, he said.
Interviews with fishermen who were at the beach Friday night seemed to bear that out.
“There’s a lot of fish here,” said Adrian Andradi, who had driven out from Brooklyn with his friends. “In Brooklyn, everyone has to stay home. We came out here to get some fresh air and catch some fish.”
Like others interviewed, he said he learned of the unregulated beach and the good fishing prospects by word of mouth.
“One of our friends told us,” said Daniel Funes, who said he had driven out from Queens.
Alonzo Guzman, another resident of Queens, said he has fished in Riverhead in the past, but never come as far east as Southampton. “My brother-in-law told me there were a lot of fish,” he said.
Luis Pautar said he had driven all the way down from Spring Valley in upstate Rockland County on Friday after work for the chance to do some saltwater fishing.
“We don’t have to work on Saturday, so we came out here,” he said, as his wife and children looked on.
Mike Mosolino, the North Sea Community Association’s president, said he walked the beach on Friday. “I spoke in Spanish to them and only 1 in 15 had a license,” he said. “It’s a very simple thing to get online. I don’t know why they don’t just do the right thing.”
Mr. Mosolino complained that the town’s initial response was inadequate, but said he thought officials had upped their game last weekend.
“The town’s doing an amazing job,” he said Saturday. “The police and bay constables have been there writing tickets and checking on things.”
Mr. Oliver praised Chief Skrynecki for his response. “I don’t think Jay was taking it seriously,” he said. “He was on WLNG and he was laughing and joking about the situation.”
Mr. Schneiderman said during a radio interview he may have made light of the fickle nature of fishing — saying the fishermen would move on like the fish — but insisted he took the residents’ concerns seriously.
“We will do whatever we need to keep people safe,” he said. “Nobody predicted these road ends would become so popular.”
Mr. Schneiderman said he loved the idea of people coming to the beach to fish and enjoy the outdoors, saying it was part of the East End’s heritage, but he conceded the area couldn’t handle such an influx.
“I think this is a passing fancy. It’s because the porgies are running,” he said. “I’ve seen it elsewhere when the striped bass are running, or there is a good surf break. People flock to the area.”
The situation became a topic of discussion on Facebook, with some posters grousing that the visitors were Latino. “Imagine if us poor white folks did this,” wrote one poster. Another blamed the crowds on Governor Andrew Cuomo because the state allows undocumented residents to obtain driver’s licenses. A third poster said if he were at the scene and caught someone littering, “I promise you I will make them pick it up with their teeth.”
A video taken after dark on Friday night showed dozens and dozens of vehicles parked all the way south to Scott Road and crowds of families walking on the dark road.
Like Mr. Oliver, Mr. Mosolino said ethnicity was not an issue. “It doesn’t matter who is there or where they are from,” he said. “The problem is it’s a very small area and it can’t take this kind of crowding.”