2003-10-17 / Columnists

On The Bayfront

By Elisa Hinken
On The Bayfront By Elisa Hinken

Back in August, during the height of the summer season, I was not able to access my usual fishing spot via car in Fort Tilden. I usually drove to the oceanfront road, got my gear out and then had my husband park the car in the designated lot. Between poles, buckets, tackle boxes, chairs, umbrellas, etc., it makes sense to just drop off the items at the road and then bring them to our fishing spot. The oceanfront road is occasionally used by cars, bikes or pedestrians. Taking a rough guess, I noted maybe 30 encounters per hour during the high season. That’s counting all cars, bikes and pedestrians.

So what’s the deal? I wanted to find out first hand, so I met with Rita Mullally, the Supervisor for Fort Tilden. A personable Rockaway resident who has the privilege of working near to her home, we had an interesting chat.

According to Ms. Mullally, there were periods of heavy use of the roadway by pedestrians and bicycle riders and a danger to their well-being by motor vehicles were complaints received by her office. So, her office decided to restrict access via motor vehicle through September 15.

Further into our conversation, more details were revealed. People, "posing" as fishermen and women would unload their cars, complete with fishing gear and access the beach, but not for fishing. They would lay blankets down and swim in unguarded waters, posing a threat to themselves and a liability to the park. I agree that there are many submerged objects in the waters off Fort Tilden beaches and swimming should not be allowed, but proper enforcement of park rules and regulations are necessary rather than restriction of a site. Again, those "day trippers" as she called them, who buy daily access permits, rather than to go to Riis Park for public swimming should pay the price by the proper enforcement of rules and regulations, rather than the community as a whole. For that same reason the Park Service suspended the sale of daily permits to fishermen. That is not fair.

Access to Fort Tilden on the bayside at the old Coast Guard Station was also restricted after the transfer of ownership from the U.S. Coast Guard to the GNRA unit of the National Park Service. Ms. Mullally told me that fishing was never officially allowed or marked as a designated fishing spot at the Coast Guard Station. She went on to tell me that a few folks accessed the site over the years and made it a habit. However, Art Wenner, founder of the Farragut Striper Club tells me a different story. The Farragut Striper Club evolved from the Farragut Rod and Gun Club, an organization founded in 1948. In 1966 a group of anglers who fished Riis Park and Fort Tilden (until the M.P.s caught them) decided to form their own group. Today, the club’s focus remains on surf fishing the northeast for striped bass, bluefish and weakfish. Membership is currently limited to 40. All members are active surf fishermen, and many log an impressive amount of time on the water. A long time fishing advocate, Wenner is a well-respected authority on local waters. He told me his organization was primary designers and consultants when it came to fishing access at the Fort Tilden/Breezy Point areas. He and his organization worked hand in hand with the Parks and Recreation Department as well as the National Park Service during its transition period to set aside dedicated fishing areas so access can be preserved. Now he feels new restrictions are unfair and a slap in his face for all the work he and his organization put into this joint venture.

Wenner contacted Congressman Anthony Wiener’s office in an effort to seek his assistance. Congressman Wiener met with the fishing group at the old Coast Guard Station so he could see the layout of the property and the area in question for himself. Mr. Wiener promised to place a compromise on the table with the GNRA administration in an effort to strike some sort of agreement. Apparently that failed, because the gates of Fort Tilden are closed.

In September of this year, a permit application by GNRA Breezy Point Unit was approved by the New York State Department of Environmental Protection for the minor rehabilitation of a boat basin. Since there are no other boat basins within the Breezy Point Unit’s jurisdiction, I assume it is for the Fort Tilden/Coast Guard Station.

The bottom line to all this is that fishing is becoming more and more restrictive. Fishermen returning from the beach are being chased off the boardwalks at night. Fishermen are being denied access to areas that have been accessed for years and years.

It is my theory that our wonderful GNRA is misconstruing their duties of protection and enforcement with restrictions and denying.

Last year, Billy Garrett, Superintendent of the Jamaica Bay Unit of the GNRA released an open letter to the community about the goals of the GNRA and goals for the bay. Among these issues, he states "Opportunities exist for the public to experience and enjoy the bay’s natural, cultural, and recreational resources without adversely impacting the ecosystem.
Management of bay resources is flexible enough to allow for adaptation to the public’s needs and desires that may arise in the future."

Adaptation is the key word here. Not restriction.


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