Commercial fishing on the East End has taken a hit over the years, from a depletion of stocks to tighter restrictions and limits. But the government which is so often the target of scorn from the fishing industry has taken a step to try to insure the future of both the fishing and boating industries here, and their associated cultures.
In legislation approved last week by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, the Community Preservation Fund has been expanded to include a Maritime Heritage provision. The law, put forward by the architects of the CPF, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, will allow the five East End towns to dip into the fund — which has generated nearly $1.5 billion over the past 21 years — to acquire property or development rights for land and/or structures that can help support the area’s maritime industries.
“The purpose of this is to buy land that will promote these uses,” Mr. Thiele said.
A few years ago, the legislator said, he had helped create a seafood industry task force that held hearings across Long Island and up into the Hudson Valley, seeking ways to promote the seafood industry. At the same time, he said, they were holding hearings on the fishing industry.
Out of those conversations came the observation that farming and fishing share a long history together, especially on the East End of Long Island, where they have been linked as economies and livelihoods. But while the Community Preservation Fund has explicit provisions in it that protect agriculture and farming, Mr. Thiele said, there is nothing in it about the maritime industries.
“The argument from the fishing community was that the law should be as protective of fishing as it is of farming,” Mr. Thiele said.
As a result, the law now includes a line indicating the funds can be used for “preservation of lands necessary to protect fisheries and water dependent uses essential to maintain and enhance maritime heritage.”
And while the law would include land supportive of the boating industry, it appears more directed at the fishing and seafood industries.
The practical idea is, for example, if a fishing pier, or a boatyard were to come on the market, or if someone wanted to make that property into condominiums, then the CPF should have the ability to acquire the properties or the development rights for those properties and keep them available for the traditional industry.
“It could be commercial fishing, private marinas, or other water-dependent uses,” said Mr. Thiele. “It’s a broad category.”
The supervisors from the two local towns were pleased with the news, and welcomed another tool for preservation, but neither had any particular projects they intended to target at the moment.
“I think I would use it sparingly,” said Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman. “I would favor using it on the commercial fishing side, if there was some infrastructure needed for them, like packing out ice.”
Southampton Town Councilwoman Julie Lofstad, whose family operates a commercial fishing boat, agreed.
“If we had a processing facility here, it would be a great help,” she said. And, she added, residents on the East End would benefit as well.
At present, about 95 percent of the raw catch caught on the East End goes into processing facilities in New York City, where it then is filleted and prepared to enter the city market, with some of it coming back east at a higher retail price.
If fishermen here had a facility, the fishermen and the local fishing industry could benefit from higher prices for a processed catch.
“Instead of getting $2 for a whole fluke, they could get $12 for a filleted fluke,” Ms. Lofstad said.
Consumers here would also pay a lower price for fish processed locally versus what arrives from the city market.
“If we can take some of the strain off the owners of some of the local businesses, it will be better for all of us,” said Ms. Lofstad. “Especially if the food comes back to us here.”
Likewise, East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said he recognized the need for supporting the fishing industry.
“A key factor of supporting a viable fishing industry is shoreside facilities,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc. “With the value of waterfront properties rising, some properties have been acquired and converted from commercial fishing to another use.”
In particular, he said there were several properties along East Lake Drive in Montauk that could have been targeted if the Maritime Heritage component of the CPF had been available at the time.
Mr. Van Scoyoc added he felt historic properties could also be included under the new provision, and gave the recently restored Amagansett Life Saving Station as an example.
In addition, he noted that maritime industries are continuing to evolve, and mentioned that kelp farming is a growing sector on the East End.
“We’ll still need shoreside facilities as the industry adapts,” he said.
Farm Stands Can Stay
In addition to the Maritime Heritage provision, the CPF law was further amended to include a clarification that farm stands and farmers markets constitute agriculture use and are permissible accessory uses on protected agricultural land. The change removes language in the law that stipulated farm stands were allowed only if at least 50 percent of the gross income resulted from the sale of produce grown on the specific farm.