The day after the body of a Selden man was found in the Long Island Sound, a Coast Guard spokesperson said that the sailboat he was on sank.
A third-generation lobsterman, Matt DeMaula has patrolled Long Island Sound alongside his father and uncles for more than two decades.
When he thinks back to his early days in the profession, the Mattituck native can recall some remarkable fall seasons.
“We used to call them ‘Septembers to remember,’ ” Mr. DeMaula said as he prepared to take the last of his lobster traps out of the Sound Friday. “We’ll never have another one of those.”
On Sunday, the state Department of Environmental Conservation closed Sound waters to lobster harvesting through Nov. 28, following a decision made last February by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which regulates Southern New England area fisheries. The move marks the first time in the fishery’s history that the state is shutting down harvesting in the Sound.
The commission’s goal is to decrease lobster landings by 10 percent annually, helping to rebuild the Sound’s “depleted” lobster population, according to the DEC.
“They should have done it 20 years ago,” said lobsterman and Southold Town Trustee Jimmy King. He has been lobster fishing out of Mattituck Inlet for more than 50 years and is a former president of the Long Island Lobstermen’s Association.
A combination of rising water temperatures, low dissolved oxygen, pesticide runoff and nitrogen loading proved too much for the crustaceans, causing an extreme die-off in 1999, said Emerson Hasbrouck, senior marine environmental issues educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.
“[The lobster] simply haven’t recovered since,” Mr. King said.
Both Mr. Hasbrouck and Mr. King said the decline was driven by the environmental impacts rather than pressure from overfishing the Sound.
At the industry’s height in 1996, lobstermen landed 9.4 million pounds of lobster from Sound waters, equaling $32.9 million in revenue, according to state DEC data. That year the state DEC issued 932 resident commercial lobster permits.
By 2012, lobstermen caught just 269,000 pounds from Sound waters, generating $975,000, according to the same data. Only 334 resident commercial lobster permits were issued that year.
“There’s hardly anything being caught in the Sound anymore,” Mr. Hasbrouck said. “Most of the lobstermen have gotten out of it. They’ve either left fishing altogether or they are involved in other fisheries.”
Lobstermen once traveled to Orient from as far as City Island in the Bronx to fish for lobster in the Sound, Mr. Hasbrouck said. A couple of hundred men tended the many lobster boats, each of which was typically fishing about 1,000 pots.
“Today, you simply couldn’t make it as a lobsterman,” Mr. King said.
Only a handful of lobstermen continue the trade locally, including Mr. DeMaula and Phil Karlin, 72, of Riverhead. Each has had to diversify as lobster stocks have dwindled, catching finfish or conch to help make a living.
“I think what we’re afraid of is that once regulations like these come down, the restrictions will never be taken off — no matter how good things get again,” Mr. Karlin said. “I think that scares people. It does scare me in some respects.”
Mr. DeMaula said rather than a full closure of the Sound he would have preferred a management plan regulating the number of traps lobstermen can use, a strategy he says has worked in Maine.
A decade ago, Mr. DeMaula fished using 600 to 700 traps. This year, he said, he used only 125.
“That wasn’t a state-planned restriction, it was a self-imposed reduction,” he said. “The amount of [lobster] I was catching didn’t warrant me putting them all in. That’s a 10 percent reduction achieved without the closure.”
The closure dates, Sept. 8 to Nov. 28, were decided on by lobstermen from New York and Connecticut on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s lobster conservation management team.
It comes “during a time when water temperature is high and stressful to lobster” and “when lobster often experience a secondary molting event,” according to state DEC officials.
Mr. Karlin said the closure would not affect him, as most of his traps are out of Sound waters by early September.
However, Mr. DeMaula said he is losing several weeks of income. He would otherwise be fishing throughout September and would begin fishing again before Thanksgiving.
For him, the fall closure adds to the many regulations that make it difficult to make a living as a fisherman, he said.
“It’s just frustrating for me,” Mr. DeMaula said. “I wasn’t going to be a millionaire, but I got to make an honest living spending time on the water with family.
“None of the young guys want to deal with the regulations,” he said. “It’s a way of life that’s being lost.”
Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) has introduced a new bill aimed at restricting the use of the pesticide Methoprene within county estuaries.
Locally, Methoprene is used to control mosquitoes breeding in estuaries, along with several types of ants, flies, lice, moths, beetles and fleas, according to the Cornell Cooperative Extension toxicology network.
The bill, introduced July 30, proposes strict application guidelines that only allow use of the pesticide when two or more bacterial larvicide treatments have proven unsuccessful in limiting the mosquito population, or when one or more diseases, such as West Nile Virus, have been identified in local mosquito populations, according to the proposed bill.
The pesticide is known as an insect growth regulator because it interferes with the insect development, making it impossible for insects to mature to the adult stage.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency studies have found its effects harmful to estuarine invertebrates like lobsters and crabs, disrupting normal development and growth processes in the crustaceans.
“The county should be doing everything it can to limit the unnecessary introduction of toxins into our environment,” said Mr. Schneiderman, saying also the die-off of lobsters in Long Island waters has corresponded with the use of new pesticides such as Methoprene. “Methoprene poses the possibility of causing damage to key species that our recreational and commercial fishermen depend on.”
Representatives of Suffolk County Vector Control, which uses the pesticide, were not immediately available for comment.
Fire officials responded to a distress call from two stranded boats in Long Island Sound between Iron Pier Beach and Reeves Beach Saturday afternoon.
The two boats, a 21-footer and a 24-footer, were stranded without power, according to Riverhead Fire officials at Iron Pier Beach. As of 5 p.m., the boats were anchored in the Sound and no injuries were reported.
The Wading River, Jamesport and Mattituck Fire Departments also responded.
It was unclear how many people were on the boats. No other details were immediately available.
Local government officials blasted members of the Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday for failing to properly notify them about a public meeting regarding the agency’s intentions to designate dredged spoil dumping sites in the eastern Long Island Sound.
The meeting, held at Suffolk Community College’s culinary center in Riverhead, outlined the EPA’s plans to conduct a supplemental environmental impact study evaluating potential dumping sites in the eastern portion of the Sound.
Four dredging sites currently exist in the Sound. Cornfield Shoals is the closest to the North Fork, located north of Greenport. The New London site is just west of Fishers Island. The other two sites are the western Suffolk site, south of Stamford, Conn. and the central Sound site, south of New Haven.
For the past 30 years dredged material from the eastern Long Island Sound has been disposed of primarily at the New London and Cornfield Shoals sites. Both are scheduled to close in 2016, prompting the EPA to seek out new dredge spoil disposal locations.
Alternative areas being considered are located off of Southold and Greenport.
“One of the things you said is if you want to get the public involved in this process, well, you first have to invited the public,” said Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, who told EPA members he was first notified of the meeting just 24 hours earlier.
Furthermore, Mr. Russell said he has not received answers to questions previously submitted to the agency on the issue.
“As supervisor of Southold Town I certainly should be involved in this process,” he said. “You need to make sure we are at the table for this discussion.”
Approximately 20 people attended the meeting, many echoing Mr. Russell’s statement about the short notice.
During the hour-long presentation representatives from EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, who helps designate and monitor the sites, outlined the process of choosing a new dumping area.
“This is a work in progress we are narrowing down locations that could work as a potential site,” said Bernward Hay, an EPA environmental scientist. Mr. Hay noted the environmental impact statement would not guarantee the approval of any proposed dumping site.
The new impact study will build on an evaluation conducted in 2005 when the agency established dumping sites in the western and central portion of the Sound, according to the presentation.
The study would analyze sediment, geographical position, depth of water, distance from the coastline and the history of dumping in the proposed areas, Mr. Hay said. The study would also take into account impacts on shellfish beds, fishing areas, shipping lanes and recreation areas.
But local lawmakers expressed frustration over the presentation.
“Suffolk County has an agriculture leasing program that’s not mentioned at all,” Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said.
Citizens agreed the proposal wasn’t comprehensive.
While the dredge material from Long Island is mostly sand that can be used for beach restoration, Connecticut dredge spoil is fine-grain silt or clay that’s not suitable for beach repairs. Because of that most of what is deposited in these sites comes from Connecticut, according to the EPA.
“Anything that comes from Connecticut ends up on Long Island’s beaches,” Mattituck resident Ron McGreevy said. “I think you need to collect more information from the Long Island side of the Sound.”
The Farmingdale-based nonprofit Citizens Campaign for the Environment doesn’t believe any dredge spoil should be dumped in the Sound, according to its executive programs manager, Maureen Dolan Murphy.
The EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers agreed in 2005 to phase out open water dumping and to develop a dredged material management plan before deciding to move forward with this step, however that plan was never developed, Ms. Murphy said.
Elected officials also questioned the continued use of underwater dumping sites.
“It’s well documented that there is a high incidence of shell disease in crabs and lobster in the waters around these dump sites,” said James King, Southold Town Trustee and commercial lobster fisherman. “I think the bottom line here is that water disposal is the cheapest, easiest way to get rid of dredge spoil. There is a lot of game playing.”
The EPA said it would continue to assess the proposed sites in more detail and include more data.
Additional public meetings on the issue will be held in the winter.
The Wading River Fire Department’s water rescue team rescued two people almost a mile off Hulse Landing beach in the Long Island Sound Sunday afternoon.
A woman sailboarder who entered the water in Shoreham was beginning to struggle on the sailboard, and her male friend swam out to help her.
The man, who declined to give his name to a reporter, as did the woman, said he was swimming for about 45 minutes before he finally reached her and told her to hang onto the board while he pulled her to shore. He said he used to be a lifeguard and is a strong swimmer.
Police at the scene said the sailboard was about three quarters of a mile out to sea in the Long Island Sound. A Riverhead Town police officer on a four-wheel drive beach vehicle was alerted by people on the beach, who said the couple appeared to be struggling.
The Wading River Fire Department got the call at about 4 p.m. and initially called for mutual aid from the Riverhead and Rocky Point fire department’s water rescue teams, as well, but they canceled the request after they quickly located the pair in the water. A Suffolk County Police rescue boat also responded.
The pair was safely brought to shore by the Wading River Fire Department boat and both were uninjured and did not need medical attention. The woman told police she had been in the water since 11 a.m.
The man told a reporter the rescue team “did a great job.”
A kayaker helped Wading River firefighters rescue a father and his young daughter from Long Island Sound after their boat capsized Thursday evening, Wading River fire officials said.
A 36-year-old Shirley man and his 10-year-old daughter were in a canoe off Wading River beach on Creek Road when the boat flipped over about 6 p.m. and began taking on water, said Wading River Fire Chief Jim Evans.
“Luckily they had life jackets and a whistle,” Chief Evans said.
The kayaker, a Shoreham woman who was in the area, heard the two stranded boaters using a whistle and came to their aid while fishermen on the beach called 911, Chief Evans said.
The Good Samaritan then paddled next to the flipped canoe and let the girl into her kayak, while the father clung to the side of the boat until rescue arrived.
Wading River firefighters got to the scene about 6:10 p.m. and used a department rescue boat to bring the kayaker and the father and daughter back to shore.
All three were evaluated by Wading River ambulance volunteers, but were not injured, police said. Chief Evans said the kayaker’s quick thinking helped to get the boater back to shore safely.
“She was key,” he said. ”[She got] to them in minutes so they could stay afloat, and kept them visible in the water until our boat arrived and got them out.”
Local law enforcement responded to a report of an overturned boat floating in Long Island Sound near Wildwood State Park in Wading River Sunday afternoon.
Riverhead Town Police said a civilian aircraft called authorities after sighting a boat drifting about five miles from the beach at Wildwood State Park. The U.S. Coast Guard and Suffolk County Police assisted Riverhead Town Police in locating the boat, which was found about 4:30 p.m.
Police said the boat — a dinghy — had fishing gear on it, but nobody was spotted in the water and no one has been reported missing. They are calling the search precautionary.
Anyone with information on the boat can contact police at 727-4500.