07/26/13 5:00pm
07/26/2013 5:00 PM

COURTESY PHOTO | Jamesport Bait & Tackle owner Bill Czech holds one of the few sandworms he can offer to fishermen.

Looking forward to a day of fishing, Spiro Beletsis of East Marion visited his local bait and tackle shop to pick up a few dozen worms.

After leaving empty-handed, he moved on to two other area bait shops.

“All three of them didn’t have worms,” Mr. Beletsis said.

There has been a shortage of worms since the July 4 weekend, North Fork bait shop owner say, leaving fishermen, particularly surfcasters, without the bait they prefer.

When hooked, the slimy creature known as the sandworm gives off a juicy brew that finfish — like porgies and striped bass — cannot resist, said Glen Valentine of Regal Marine Products, a bait distributor that supplies some local shops.

“It hurts business because some people don’t how to fish with anything else,” said Bill Czech of Jamesport Bait and Tackle in Mattituck.

“I can order 14 boxes, and I get delivered three boxes” of about 125 worms each, he said. “I usually put a two dozen maximum [limit on sales per customer].”

WeGo Bait and Tackle in Southold hasn’t had sandworms in stock for over a week, said Steven, the shop’s owner. He said he sent close to 100 customers away worm-less in recent days.

Capt. Dave Brennan, owner of the Peconic Star fleet in Greenport, said the shortage has had an effect on fishing.

While he said he usually relies on other types of bait for porgy and striped bass fishing “sometimes they are very critical to put a catch together. You need worms, and that’s the time I miss them. I am not able to carry them this year,” he said.

Sandworms are harvested from the shores of Maine and distributed nationwide, Mr. Valentine said.

He said his distribution company, which works out of Huntington Station, is receiving only about 15 percent of what is demanded by area bait shops.

In Maine there are a lot of mud flats where the worms burrow into the sand. When tides go out the flats are exposed, giving more of an opportunity to gather worms, he said.

“Right now the tides are not great,” he said, adding that the hot temperatures send worms deeper in the ground.

He said summer weather and tides are only partly to blame, though, as the worms have been overharvested for years.

“It’s getting worse every year because they are over-dug,” Mr. Valentine said. “There is very little conservation in Maine.”

To get any kind of quantity, harvesters are digging them kind of small, at about 2 to 5 inches. “Years ago they were much bigger, [about 7 to 8 inches] you don’t see them that size anymore,” he said.

“The public needs to understand that it is a problem. It’s going to get worse and worse every year,” Mr. Valentine said.

Until more worms can be unearthed, there are alternatives fisherman can use as bait, shop owners said.

“You can improvise and use clam or squid,” Mr. Czech said. “But for some reason the worms work better.”

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05/31/13 3:37pm
05/31/2013 3:37 PM

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Fire Fighter is currently docked at Mitchell Park Marina.

The decommissioned New York City fireboat Fire Fighter was a popular attraction at Mitchell Park Marina this Memorial Day weekend, but plans to move the boat to the commercial railroad dock came under fire during Tuesday’s Village Board meeting.

The contract between the village and the Fireboat Fire Fighter Museum to dock the vessel at Mitchell Park Marina will expire in June, according to Mayor David Nyce. Since its arrival in Greenport in February, the plan has been to ultimately move Fire Fighter to a permanent berth at the railroad dock near the East End Seaport Museum.

The relocation of the 120-foot ship, now a nonprofit floating museum, is pending a determination by Suffolk County on whether it can dock at the railroad pier. The county leases the railroad dock to the village for a token fee of $1 per year, according to Mayor David Nyce. In exchange, Greenport maintains the dock. The county, however, is the final authority on who can use the dock — which is intended exclusively for commercial fishermen — and it has the right to refuse any sublease agreement the village enters into regarding the railroad dock.

The possible move drew outrage from fisherman Sidney Smith, who said he believes there’s an overlooked problem with electrolysis in the water surrounding the pier. Electrolysis can cause premature rusting and deterioration of metal boat materials. Built in 1937, Fire Fighter has a riveted hull, the same material used to construct the Titanic, Mr. Smith pointed out during the meeting. Furthermore, the boat has not been hauled out in more than 12 years.

“No one knows the condition of the bottom [of Fire Fighter],” he said.

Mayor Nyce said after the meeting that though the boat had not been hauled out it was inspected last fall.

Mr. Smith is ultimately concerned moving Fire Fighter would take space away from commercial fishermen. He argued that allowing the floating museum to moor at the railroad dock would violate Greenport’s Waterfront Revitalization Act, which was enacted to protect its working waterfront.

“We will make sure anything we write protects the village,” Mr. Nyce said. “We will discuss with the current tenants at the railroad dock to figure out if there is enough room. We think there is.”

The railroad dock is in need of extensive repairs and the village hopes the lease agreement will help fund its restoration, according to the mayor.

Mr. Nyce said he is meeting with Suffolk County officials before the contract is set to expire on June 6.

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03/02/13 8:00am
03/02/2013 8:00 AM

KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO | The Miss Nancy fishing boat moves through Greenport Harbor.

Life could get just a little easier for East End commercial fishermen if a bill Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-C-Port Jefferson) ushered through the New York State Senate has the same support in the Assembly.

The bill that passed the Senate with only a single negative vote would allow commercial fishermen to aggregate their daily catch limits over a seven-day period. A fisherman could, for example, catch three times his daily quota on Monday and two times the limit on Wednesday and then stay off the water until the following Monday, thereby conserving fuel. The bill that passed the Senate would also allow individuals, each of whom had a fishing license, to go out together in the same boat with each able to take a daily or aggregate limit.

“Fuel for running a fishing boat is extremely costly,” Mr. LaValle said, noting that it “significantly cuts into the already slim profits” fishermen get.

Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), who is shepherding the bill through the Assembly, said he and Mr. LaValle drafted the bill together in consultation with local fishermen.

While the Assembly is focused on getting a budget passed by the April 1 deadline, Mr. Thiele said as soon as that’s accomplished, the fishing bill would move ahead.

“It’s a bill that is high on my list,” Mr. Thiele said.

Assuming the Assembly gives the legislation the go-ahead, it would go to Governor Andrew Cuomo for his signature.

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