Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sharks and Pound Net Fishermen on the North Fork

A very large shark entered a the net of a pound net fisherman on Long Island's North Fork not long ago, as reported in the Suffolk Times (I saw it on Twitter, via @Soundbounder). The fisherman thought it was a bull shark and let it go.

What really surprised me is that there is still at least one pound net fisherman on the North Fork. Pound nets are an old, very low-tech, labor intensive way of fishing.

In 1989 I spent a morning with a pound net fisherman out of Greenport, named Dan Dzenkowski. I had intended to include an account of the morning in my book but it didn't quite fit, so I posted it here instead. I called it The Last Fisherman, a name which obviously turns out to be wrong.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Save the Sound has been working with other organizations for a couple of years to prepare a long-range and short-range agenda for the continued cleanup and restoration of Long Island Sound.

They’re calling it the SoundVision Action Plan and they are unveiling it in seven locations around the Sound over the next month.

The first event is Monday, August 1, at Harbor Island Park, in Mamaroneck. There’s a press conference at 3, then a briefing for the public on board the schooner SoundWaters at 3:45 and then a two-hour sail on the Soundwaters.

The public is encouraged to attend the whole thing (although there’s not much room on the boat, so you need a reservation for that).

Save the Sound has asked me to help out with some publicity for the events and they sent me a copy of the SoundVision document. It’s impressive and it will be worthwhile to learn about it in detail, in person.

Here's the whole schedule:
Mamaroneck, NY - Monday, August 1

Port Jefferson, NY - Monday, August 8

Bridgeport, CT - Monday, August 15

Old Saybrook, CT - Wednesday, August 24

Mystic, CT - Saturday, August 27

Hempstead Harbor, NY - Tuesday, August 30

Greenwich, CT - Tuesday, September 6

You can sign up for the boat ride on the SoundWaters website, here, and there’s a SoundVision Facebook page as well.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Big Sewage Problems on the Hudson

Somewhere Wendell Berry noted that when small-scale technological solutions fail, the problems they cause are small. But when large-scale technological solutions fail, the problems are huge.

That came to mind today when reading about the problems at the North River plant and the millions of gallons of sewage released into the Hudson. Here’s a long excerpt from the Times website:

On Tuesday, just a day before the fire, tests on city waters found them to be in “excellent” condition, with all of them — except the Gowanus Canal — deemed fit for swimming, said John Lipscomb, the manager of water quality sampling programs for Riverkeeper, an environmental advocacy group that monitors conditions in the Hudson.
By Thursday, public boat launches on the Hudson had been shut down. Swimmers young and old were being turned away at the gates of Riverbank State Park, which sits atop the treatment plant, has three swimming pools and other amenities, and was closed because it had no electrical power. People fishing from piers along the river were advised that the water was unsafe.
The city has nearly 600 miles of coastline, and the warning from the health department covers the waters from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to the Hudson, Harlem and East Rivers. In those areas, the city says, people should avoid activities that could involve contact with the water. As of Thursday evening, that warning does not apply to the 14 miles of public beaches in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, and on Staten Island. Officials said updates would be posted on the department Web site,
New York’s waterways have been transformed over the last four decades, in large part as a result of the city’s 14 sewage treatment plants, which were built or modernized with federal money under the Clean Water Act.
Instead of pouring into rivers and bays, raw sewage is now treated in plants like North River, which is on the Hudson between 137th and 145th Streets and handles waste from the West Side of Manhattan above Bank Street in Greenwich Village. About 120 million gallons a day is treated there, but it can handle up to 340 million gallons when it rains.


The controversy over the State of Connecticut’s decision to shut down two old, old ferries on the Connecticut River made me think of all the ferries I’ve taken over the years. Here they are, in approximate chronological order:

Staten Island Ferry

Brooklyn Ferry (Bay Ridge to Staten Island, now defunct)

Bayonne Ferry (Bayonne to Staten Island, now defunct), Kill Van Kull

Essex, N.Y., to Charlotte, Vt., Lake Champlain

Fishers Island Ferry

Ferry from Point du Bout to Fort de France, Martinique

Bridgeport to Port Jefferson Ferry

Rocky Hill to Glastonbury Ferry, Connecticut River

Block Island Ferry (Point Judith to Block Island)

Smith Island (Md.) Ferry from Crisfield, Md., Chesapeake Bay (it was while taking this small, pedestrian-only ferry in 1987 that I remarked to Tom Horton, a writer who lived on Smith Island at the time, that it must be kind of neat to take have to ride this ferry, to which he responded that it was liking taking a 20-minute elevator ride twice a day)

Block Island Ferry (New London to Block Island)

Ferry from St. Thomas to Tortolla

Governors Island Ferry

New London to Orient Point Ferry

There are some good photos of and lamentations about the Rocky Hill-Glastonbury Ferry and the Hadlyme-Chester Ferry here, on Soundbounder. Matt’s a little bummed out. I agree with him -- it’s a bad decision.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


When the Connecticut DEEP* emailed out its regular Long Island Sound water quality summary last week, there was a note with it that said, "Ctenophores were plentiful, clogging the plankton nets at the eastern sound stations."

Those Ctenophores probably were comb jellies. More than once over the years people have emailed me to ask if there are more jellyfish in the Sound than there used to be. I have no idea, of course, nor does anyone else. But I've been reading Thoreau's "Cape Cod" and I was interested to see that thick masses of jellies -- or sun-fish, as he called them sometimes -- were not completely unknown 150-plus years ago either. Here's what he wrote:

The beach was also strewn with beautiful sea-jellies, which the wreckers call Sea-squall, one of the lowest forms of animal life, some white, some wine-colored, and a foot in diameter. ... I did not at first recognize these as the same which I had formerly seen in myriads in Boston Harbor, rising, with a waving motion, to the surface, as if to meet the sun, and discoloring the waters far and wide, so that I seemed to be sailing through a mere sun-fish soup.

*Although the new acronym is reminiscent of the active ingredient in bug repellent, the Connecticut DEP is now the DEEP -- Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What's Happening to the Striped Bass?

The gist of this first-rate story from the East Hampton Star (published May 26, when I wasn't paying attention) is that there does seem to be fewer striped bass around but the reason might simply be that nature is controlling the striped bass population after a number of successful spawning years led to great abundance -- in other words, a natural cycle.

That leaves open the question though of what, if anything, is happening with other fish.

Thanks to Matt (@soundbounder) for sending it to me.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Where are Long Island Sound's Fish?

A fellow named Rob Carr, who lives in Stamford, wrote to me this morning:

"Question. I live in Stamford, and I've been fishing the area for the past 7 years. While last year was a good year for stripers, many of my experienced angler friends feel that another fishing crash is coming or here. This year in particular is "the worst year in 30" for some seasoned, recreational fisherman. Not just stripers, but many other species. One friend commented that he caught nothing in June, which is normally his best month. He's never come close to striking out in June.

While this is not a simple yes, no answer, have you read about or heard similar comments?"

Fish populations are notoriously cyclical, and I've been reading newspaper stories about how the striped bass population along the east coast seems to be declining.

Does anyone have an educated opinion?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Rye's Quaker Meeting House and Bird Homestead

I spent about an hour at the Quaker Meeting House in Rye last evening talking about Long Island Sound to Suzy Allman, a local film-maker who is producing a series of short videos about various aspects of the Bird Homestead, which is next door to the Meeting House.

The building, which like the Bird Homestead, is owned by the City of Rye and is being renovated under Anne Stillman’s direction by a local group called Save the Bird Homestead, was originally a schoolhouse and then an Episcopal chapel and finally a Quaker Meeting House. Some of the old pews are still there, and I sat in one, answering Suzy’s questions about the Sound and the local environment (a sort of secular prayer), and sweltering in the early evening heat and humidity.

The two properties together cover almost 2.5 acres and give a great sense of what things must have looked like a century or more ago. Best of all, te sit on Blind Brook, at the head of Milton Harbor, have a nice strip of viable salt marsh and eventually, when a ramp is built, will be a place where folks can put in a canoe or kayak to get access to the Sound. Here's some information about the Bird Homestead and here's one of the video's Suzy Allman has already made about the Meeting House.

She said the one she's doing with me will be ready in about two weeks.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Shad in the Charles and the Connecticut

Matt Houskeeper (@Soundbounder) Tweeted a link to a story out of Boston about 330,000 American shad larvae being released into the Charles River (time to drop the needle on “Dirty Water,” by the Standells).

It sounds like a great project made possible by the work of what sounds like a great organization -- the Charles River Watershed Association.

It also reminded me that yesterday I received the last update of the season on diadromous fish in Connecticut (and up the Connecticut River into Massachusetts), from Steve Gephard of the Connecticut DEP.

Almost 250,000 shad were counted on the Connecticut this year, up from fewer than 170,000 last year. The number of alewives on the smaller rivers (particularly Bride Brook in East Lyme and the Mianus River in Greenwich) was about the same as last year, when the alewife run was nothing short of great. And blueback herring were, again, missing in action, as Steve put it. Here’s how he summarized the run:

At the end of the season, it is tempting to issue some broad sweeping conclusions of the runs. It is difficult for us to do that at this time since we have not had the time to critically examine our data. My sense, however, is that the 2011 alewife run was similar is scope and size to the 2010 run—which was the best year in many. This year was not any better (perhaps not quite as good) but it was in the same range. For any year, you’ll have some that are much better (e.g. Bride Brook with a record 196,000+) and some that are much worse (e.g. Branford Water Supply Ponds with 4,400 following last year’s 50,000+). For blueback herring, it does not appear we moved the needle much from last year. Numbers at the Mianus Pond fishway may have inched up a little along with Wood Dam (Saugatuck River) but in most streams the species remains ‘missing in action’. The shad run in the Shetucket River was very disappointing (even as the run in the Connecticut River was quite good) and the lamprey run in the Hammonasset River was better than usual. We hope to have more coastal fishways reporting data in 2012 when these reports resume. Have a good summer!

I don’t know why he sends out a pdf of his report instead of putting it online. The DEP does the same thing with its summer water quality and hypoxia surveys of Long Island Sound -- that is, emails a pdf rather than putting results on its website. Mysterious.

Nevertheless, the information and analysis is fascinating. I made a jpeg (above) of the first page of the report. If you’re interested, Steve will put you on his mailing list for next spring. Ask him, at

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Newsday's Open Space Poll

Newsday is running an online poll today: Should communities keep up land preservation efforts as they struggle with their budgets?

The answer is of course yes, but it’s not really that simple.

For one thing, most of the towns on Long Island’s east end collect money for open space through a real estate transfer tax. The amount of money rises or falls depending on the number of real estate sales in any given year but, regardless, there’s always money coming into the fund. And that money can only be spent on open space preservation projects. It can’t be used for salaries or for highway repairs or for sewers. It has nothing to do with money in the town’s operating budgets or with struggles to balance the budgets.

So if the towns have it, they might as well spend it, assuming they can find good deals.

But that raises another issue, for towns that collect open space money through a real estate transfer tax and for towns that do not.

By law, municipalities must get an appraisal before they buy land, and they are prohibited from paying more than the appraised value. When land values are high, that is not a problem. Municipalities can pay the appraised value, as we did in 2006, when I worked at Westchester Land Trust and we helped the Town of Somers buy the 654-acre Angle Fly Preserve for $20.5 million. Or they can pay less than appraised value and allow the seller to take a tax deduction for making a bargain sale, which we also did several times.

But that works only if the sellers believe they are being paid a price that is close to what the land is worth. And right now, land values as documented by qualified appraisals are extremely low. In fact, they are far lower than many land owners want to believe. Which can make it very hard to strike a deal.

Think of it this way: If you own land that you think is worth, say, $12 million (perhaps because you paid $12 million for it), and a town offers to buy it for $5 million because that’s what it was appraised for, why would you agree unless you absolutely had to sell for financial reasons? It’s impossible to make up a difference that big with a compromise price. Unless you had to sell, you’d be smart to hang on to your land until values rise again.

So no matter what the answer is to the question in Newsday’s poll -- Should communities keep up land preservation efforts as they struggle with their budgets? -- the real answer is that it’s a lot more complicated. Look for great deals, but you might have a hard time finding willing sellers.
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