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Aug 27, 2019 4:53 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Hampton Trustee Calls On State To Control Gillnets Better After Whale Entanglement

East Hampton Town Trustee Rick Drew, left, has said he thinks there should be better regulation of gillnetting in the ocean off the South Fork.
Aug 27, 2019 5:04 PM

After a summer in which fishing nets anchored just off South Fork beaches ensnared swimmers and a seal and a humpback whale, East Hampton Town Trustee Rick Drew is calling for an overhaul of the regulations on gill net fishing off Long Island.

The Trustee and avid fisherman said that he believes there need to be new restraints that dictate where gill nets can be set, and how long they can be left unattended, as well as better enforcement of the rules by the State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Earlier this month he penned an appeal to a small group of town, county and state lawmakers asking them to urge the state to draft new guidelines for gill netting.

“I’ve observed this fishery for over 20 years, from the days when it was just a handful of guys launching from the beach, to now, when we have boats from all over east and west setting multiple nets per day for over 100 days,” Mr. Drew said in a conversation this week about his appeal.

“This summer, we saw nets set right near swimming areas and left for an entire day untended — that is a safety hazard for people as well as marine mammals, as we saw with the whale incident. And it’s also just irresponsible fishing and shouldn’t be legal.”

Mr. Drew said that he has spoken to people who swam into the nets, not realizing they were fishing nets and not just the buoys marking a delineated swimming area — a situation that could have potentially been dangerous if the person had become entangled.

Gill nets are nets that are anchored to the sea floor in an area where fish are expected to swim. The net has a string mesh that is large enough for a fish to swim through up to its gill plates before it is snared. It is the most common method for the commercial catch of monkfish, striped bass and bluefish.

The Trustees as an entity do not themselves have the authority to regulate gill netting in the ocean, where rules are set by the DEC.

The only regulations on gill nets according to the state are relative to the nets being required to have a breakaway weak link so that a large marine mammal like a whale that gets tangled in it can wrench itself free. The whale that was entangled in July off Townline Road beach was only able to free itself after two surfers on the beach paddled out with knives and cut away the thickest parts of the net.

Mr. Drew, whose election campaign signs bear the image of a striped bass, is careful to note that the East Hampton baymen who fish gill nets from Amagansett beaches in the fall, using their old haulseining dories, present a different version of gill netting. They set their nets and stand by on the beach while the nets “soak” until they are ready to be pulled back in.

“A gill net that is set for a relatively short amount of time and is tended is a different animal,” he said. “If you are staying with your gear, responsibly monitoring it, then it’s something that is an okay type of fishing.”

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MR Drew must be a recreational fisherman. Can this be confirmed?
By Bore (2), Rochester on Aug 28, 19 11:03 AM
Were human swimmers ensnared in fishing nets this summer?
If not, I politely suggest an edit of the sentence "After a summer in which fishing nets anchored just off the South Fork beaches ensnared swimmers and a seal and a humpback whale..."
By Aeshtron (431), Southampton on Aug 28, 19 11:50 AM
1 member liked this comment
Populations of humpback whales and seals -- rather than being "endangered" or even "threatened" -- are booming. The Marine Mammal Protection Act l needs to be adjusted to ease protections on these. These nets are prominently marked with large flags and buoys required by law . The DEC is in violation of its duty to inform the public of what fishing gear looks like so people know to stay clear.
Why is the "answer" always more regulations on commercial fishermen?
By surfnetter (6), Center Moriches on Aug 28, 19 11:53 AM
Surfnetter, that a ‘57 Chevy in your avatar?
By Fred s (3321), Southampton on Aug 28, 19 12:10 PM
gotta be pretty unaware of your surroundings to swim out past the break , around the maker on the net and swim into a line of floats on the top line of the gear. Darwin Award contender.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Aug 28, 19 12:55 PM
1 member liked this comment
Mr Drew sounds like a sporty that doesn't like commercial gill netting. Most gill nets are set the night before and tended in the morning. The gill net boats will set 2-3 nets along the vast beach and haul them the next day, which takes time, without any problems.
Your beach gill netters can't sit on the beach and soak them because of beach driving regulations. As for a swimmer getting caught up in a gill net, I doubt it. Why would you go near the net, inquisitive, looking for fish or stupid???
By knitter (1941), Southampton on Aug 28, 19 1:17 PM
HOW ABOUT THE >>OVER<< 4000 POUNDS OF 30-POUND STRIPED BASS ONE OF THEM THREW BACK DEAD LAST FALL BECAUSE THEY CAUGHT OVER THEIR QUOTA. I surfcast & they set their nets close enough that you could step off the ridge next to the beach & touch the bouy & line. The fisheries are almost gone- ask the older people who remember what it USED to be like. Sad.
By Brdie (10), Riverhead on Aug 29, 19 10:56 PM