Rep. Lee Zeldin, left, with House Natural Resources Committee members Tom MacArthur, Rob Bishop, committee chairman and Jared Huffman. Photo: Denise Civiletti

A U.S. House of Representatives committee held a rare field hearing in Riverhead yesterday, the first time in recent memory such a committee has formally met on the East End.

A three-member panel of the House Committee on Natural Resources convened the hearing to discuss the federal policies that currently regulate the region’s fishing grounds, probing the policies’ basis in science, fishery conditions and economic impacts on the local economy with testimony and questioning  of several invited witnesses.

The committee members who conducted the hearing, hosted by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), heard testimony for two hours yesterday at the Suffolk County Community College Culinary Arts Institute on East Main Street.

They also discussed alternatives to what some on the four-member panel characterized as oppressive regulation that could potentially damage the region’s fishing industry.

“In my part of the world, there’s a saying that if you have no farms, you have no food,” said committee chairman Rob Bishop, a Republican congressman from Utah. “The same can be said that if you have no boating access, you have no fish.”

Bishop claimed that federal agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have “ignored state and local laws, input and science” in their regulatory decisions.

“Some have accused the NOAAA of using political science to justify fishing closures,” Bishop said at the hearing. “These decisions have real impacts on local economies, cultures and traditions.”

With an economy that once heavily on its local fishing industry, the East End was an appropriate place to host such a discussion.

“Fishing isn’t just a key sector of our coastal economy but a way of life that many Long Island families depend upon,” Zeldin said at the hearing. “Now more than ever our fisheries and the dedicated men and women who work in this important industry face real challenges that must be addressed.”

Representatives from area fishing organizations brought some local perspective to the hearing, including the Montauk-based Long Island Fishing Association.

Bonnie Brady, the association’s executive director, argued against regulating fish populations with a state-by-state quota, which she says is prejudicial against New York, and called for a federal coast-wide quota instead.

Joe McBride, a legislative representative from the Montauk Boatmen and Captains Association, also asked the committee to allow striped bass fishing in the strip of federal waters between Montauk Point and Block Island, Rhode Island.

State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo, County Legislator Al Krupski, Southold Town Trustee Jim King and Riverhead Councilman-elect Tim Hubbard attended the hearing.

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