On an early fall morning, Trustee James King can be found doing maintenance on his fishing equipment and reflecting on life as a lobsterman in these difficult times.
King has fished for lobster for 48 years and he said the industry is in “bad shape” right now and does not think it is economically feasible for a young person to go into the business. After the “catastrophic” die off in 1999, King said the industry has not recovered. He said Long Island Sound is in the extreme southern end of lobster territory and that rising water temperatures may be to blame for the current state of affairs.
Even though the season is shorter, there’s still work to be done.
“If you don’t like work, don’t bother being a fisherman,” King said.
King said it used to even be harder but with all the restrictions placed on local fishermen, it makes it difficult to work at all.
A North Fork resident since 1966, King has served as a trustee since 1996. As he approaches his upcoming re-election bid, he said he’s not a politician and making speeches makes him uncomfortable but he genuinely enjoys the work because he has concern for the marine environment. He said correcting mistakes made in the past takes time, but it is essential to do to improve the quality of the water in Southold Town.
Many of the North Fork’s wetland areas were filled in during the 1950s and 1960s because people believed wetlands were “useless, valueless properties,” King said. Add years of road runoff and sewage infiltrating the wetlands, and that leads to the closing of places like West Creek and Wickham Creek to shellfishing.
“People don’t get upset until it’s closed,” he said.
Protecting the wetlands is at the core of why he enjoys being a trustee, though his years on the job have sometimes made him jaded. He said they are making progress and reversing some of the damage but people still try to circumvent town laws.
“Some people want what they want when they want it,” he said.
Trying to balance those applications with conservation is sometimes difficult. He said people keep finding spots for docks and homes in some of the North Fork’s “least desirable” locations that were approved as building lots years ago. He said the trustees have been taken to court for denying some applications and they have lost. He cited a recent case the town lost because the trustees denied an application with a sanitary system 30 feet away from the wetlands and the court reversed their decision.
“We’re not going to stop development. We can slow it down and do it more intelligently,” King said.
As he looks towards his future, King said he has no plans to quit being a lobsterman. Though times are lean, he said he loves what he does and is able to get by.
“Something just draws us to the water. I know it’s a part of me,” he said.