Attorney Hopes to Preserve Baymen’s Way of Life

Posted on 25 April 2012

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William Lester was born in 1900 and as soon as he was old enough to walk he was fishing. A bayman like his father before him, William passed the skill and tradition to his own son, who in turn shared it with his children, Daniel and Paul, brothers who now work nets in Accabonac Harbor just as their forefathers.

“As soon as my mother let me, I went fishing,” said Daniel Lester in an interview this week. “Once you do it, that is it — you are done, you are hooked. I had other jobs in my life, I have done other things, but this is it for me.”

Despite a general trend towards all things local, the life of a bayman on the East End has only gotten harder over the last two decades. Now a group of baymen are trying to build momentum to ensure a historic tradition on the East End is not lost.

And they’re armed with an attorney,

According to Lester there is an entire generation of baymen who feel so restricted by state and federal guidelines they are questioning whether this will remain a viable way of life, or if like many historic traditions it will be lost to future generations.

“We are not out to break the law,” said Daniel. “We just want to make a day’s pay and a nice living. Some of the regulations we are dealing with are out of control.”

Following a court case involving Daniel’s siblings, Paul and Kelly, who faced charges they violated the state’s Conservation Law, a group of a dozen baymen in East Hampton and Riverhead attorney Daniel Rodgers have revived a decades long battle to protect the rights of the baymen.

The pair were exonerated this past fall, but last week, in the hopes of increasing support behind the rights of the baymen, Rodgers filed a request with the Preservation League of New York State (PLNYS). He is asking the league to consider adding Long Island “baymen” to its list of historic and cultural resources in need of protection.

“Baymen are increasingly under pressure from burdensome state and federal regulations,” said Rodgers in his letter to the preservation league. “Many, particularly younger fishermen, are choosing to leave their livelihood, never to return. The unique skills of baymen are passed down from one generation to the next, in some instances over hundreds of years. They will never be replaced.”

Rodgers cited a recent decision in Maryland as a basis for his decision to reach out to the preservation league.

According to The Chesapeake Bay Journal, Preservation Maryland has placed the Maryland waterman on their 2012 Endangered Maryland list in the hopes of furthering discussion in the state about the cultural importance of the waterman.

It was veteran bayman Stuart Vorpahl who discovered the news item and encouraged Rodgers to seek the same path in New York.

On Tuesday, regional director of technical grant programs for PLNYS Erin Tobin said while the group would be interested in entertaining the concept at the end of 2013, for the 2013 and 2014 years the organization has already selected its Seven to Save for this year.

“The protection of a way of life is not something that is directly within our mission statement,” said Tobin, noting it was often historic landscapes or buildings the group focused its efforts on.

However, she said she was happy to have connected with Rodgers and added the league would look into the request in more depth come 2013.

“This is just the beginning of the conversation,” said Rodgers. “Time is on our side and we are willing to fight for this however long it takes. This is a culture that needs to be preserved.”

Rodgers said he would be reaching out to cultural and historic organizations throughout Long Island in coming weeks for support.

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