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Riding the Waves of Change

The Montauk Boatmen & Captains Association Helps Protect the Rights of the Local Fishing Community

In 1686, at the direction of England’s King James II, Thomas Dongan, at times provincial Governor of New York and others, Vice-Admiral of the Navy, was dispatched to execute land grants that established several towns in New York State. Two of these were East Hampton and Southampton. Besides defining the boundaries of the Towns and establishing that Trustees were in charge of their destiny, the “Dongan Patent” that was signed at the time, guaranteed inhabitants of the two Towns, both natives and settlers, the right to full use of all local natural resources forever into the future, not including precious metals which remained the property of His Majesty, the King of England. Despite repeated legal challenges during the centuries that followed, the Dongan Patent has always been victorious and has held firm.

During the following 300 years, as government and its regulations have become more complex, and threatening to the rights of the fishing community so critical on our East End, it has become essential that the united voices of our fishermen and boatmen be collectively heard by state, federal and county politicians. For that purpose, in 1965 the “Montauk Boatmen Association” was formed. MBA members were full time fishermen and charter boat Captains. 

According to Charter Member Captain Joe McBride, the “Montauk Captains Association” (the MCA), an additional such organization, was formed in 1979 to include the voices of part-time charter boat owners who were often savvy businessmen and professionals off-season. 

Captain Joe McBride Photo: Richard Lewin

Feeling that a common voice would be more powerful in the world of lobbying and regulations, the two organizations combined in 1985 to form what is now the 85 Member “Montauk Boatmen and Captains Association”, where Captain Joe McBride was President for 30 years. Joe reports that the MBCA is not only concerned with politics, but also with the Montauk Community itself. For example, the MBCA is currently spearheading the effort to establish a permanent memorial in Montauk to former MBA member, the late John Behan, Marine hero/Veterans rights advocate/New York State Assemblyman and former owner of the “Peconic Queen” local fishing fleet.

On a surprising note, Captain Joe, despite his expertise and experience in fishing and boating, admits that he cannot swim and does not enjoy eating fish!

On the more practical day-to-day side of things, Chuck Mallinson, Captain of the “Joy Sea” fishing charter boat in Montauk, and charter member of the MBA in 1978, reports that, over time, he has had to keep track of constantly changing government rules and regulations. These include the NOAA’s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) variety of constantly changing rules of size and quantity allowed for each type of fishing, from shore fishing, privately owned boats and boats for hire, for example, and rules of the catch, from Acadian Rockfish to Yellowtail Rockfish. Most important varieties to the local fishing community are striped bass, bluefish, fluke, black sea bass, porgy, tautog, codfish, shark, and tuna.

According to Chuck, regular enforcement of these codes and rules is done by the National Marine Fisheries Division of the NOAA, The East Hampton Marine Patrol, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, the United States Coast Guard and the U.S. Department of Environmental Conservation.

With the continuing increase in regulation and control, and the influx of non-locals and the increase in the emphasis in tourism in Montauk, the future of the Montauk fishing community remains to be seen.

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