Nat Miller and Jim Bennett didn't have much time to chat. It was about 8:45 on a sunny Sunday morning in early May, and they were loading their gear onto two boats—a 20-foot skiff with a 115-horsepower outboard, and an 18-foot sharpie with a 50-horse outboard—at Lazy Point, on the southern edge of Napeague Bay, on the South Fork of Long Island. “We are working against the wind and the tide,” Miller said as he shook my hand.
The men had already caught a fluke the size of a doormat and were eager for more. Miller and Bennett are Bonackers, a name for a small group of families who were among eastern Long Island's earliest Anglo settlers. The Bonackers are some of America's most storied fishermen. They've been profiled several times, most vividly by Peter Matthiessen in his 1986 book Men's Lives. Miller's roots in the area go back 13 generations, Bennett's 14. That morning, Miller and Bennett and five fellow fishermen were heading east to tend their “pound traps,” an ancient method of fishing in shallow water that uses staked enclosures to capture fish as they migrate along the shore. Miller and Bennett were likely to catch scup, bass, porgies, and other species.
If Governor Andrew Cuomo gets his way, though, they and other commercial fishermen on the South Fork may need to look for a new line of work.