The Peconic Estuary Program is one of only 28 federally funded efforts to save and rebuild a healthy marine and coastal environment. The EPA calls this a program of national significance.
This means we citizens must support the health of Southold’s marsh, creek and bay environment with all possible effort.
Obviously, the current work in progress, The Southold Town Comprehensive Master Plan, must reflect this national importance in its recommendations.
Many say with heartfelt enthusiasm: “keep it rural.” I would like to qualify this with an explanation of how far from rural we have already strayed. Let me start in the mid-1930s when I was a kid on Nassau Point and what the marine environment was then.
I would wade in Broadwaters Creek and blowfish would nibble on my toes. Blue crabs would swim by in a seemingly endless procession. When netting crabs from the rowboat we would frequently catch a twosome, a large crab with a soft crab (shedder) carried underneath. While poling the boat we would disturb eels and the occasional toadfish.
At night at low tide, rowboats would be on the creek “fire lighting” with spotlights pointed down into the water, netting blue crabs or spearing eels.
In the spring the party boats would be spread across the race between Paradise Point and Jessup’s neck, chumming with shrimp and catching weakfish in great quantities.
In the basin at New Suffolk, what is now Mr. Bacon’s docking area, the Radel Oyster Company docked boats that tended oyster beds all over the bay. In the creek we used to lean out of the row boat at low tide and harvest clams with our hands. We had to be careful, though: The bottom was lined with oysters that would lacerate our fingers.
In the 50s I was in Greenport sending a trunk to Williamsburg, VA, from the UPS office. The agent said, “Oh yes, I know where that is, we send crates of oysters there every day”.
In the evening, when the wind was down, young “bug” scallops used to break the surface and squirt along. A New Suffolk waterman I knew in the 50s told me of the salad days of Peconic Bay scalloping, when one seasons catch made enough profit to build his home in New Suffolk.
There were quite a few bunker boats docked in Greenport. These fishing boats used to go out and net menhaden, “moss bunkers,” and deliver them to the processing plant at Promised Land on the South Fork to be ground up into fish meal.
Simply said, the blowfish are gone. The toad fish are gone. The eels are mostly gone. There is no organized weakfish party boat activity. Scallops are gone, but for the efforts of some environmental groups. Oystering is no longer a North Fork industry. Blue crabs are not prevalent. Moss bunkers are in serious decline and the bunker boats are gone. We don’t miss the smell of the processing plant, however.
The environmental word now is that the decline in menhaden is an ever-larger missing piece in the marine food chain.
In my more recent experience the blue fish are in decline. There used to be blues attacking schools of bunkers, splashing and jumping and leaving bunker remains in the water that drew squawking terns and gulls. I see this less and less.
My point is that the marine environment is very much depleted. We need to take action now. Keeping it rural is no longer possible, but we must do all we can. Stopping the decline and reversing the trend is absolutely necessary.
I hope you will all follow the progress of the master plan and support the programs that are designed to return us to the old nature-friendly Southold.
We are one of the ecologically most significant areas in the country. We should wear our responsibility proudly.
Mr. Meinke is a past president of the North Fork Environmental Council. He lives in Laurel