For the past several years, Wheatley has partnered with the Long Island Traditions to help explore traditional maritime culture in the age of Sandy and the decline of commercial and recreational fishing on Long Island. The partnership includes the College Regional Studies Program (12th grade) at Wheatley taught by Dr. John Staudt.
For the past five years Dr Staudt’s College Regional Studies students have been using the fishing industry as a model to examine the occupational and recreational traditions of fishermen and baymen on Long Island, focusing on Nassau County’s north and south shores. They have learned about the tools and traps, boats and nets, rods and bait that are used by recreational and commercial fishermen from various communities on Long Island, identified by folklorist Nancy Solomon, executive director of Long Island Traditions.
To introduce the students to these topics Mrs. Solomon presents a Powerpoint presentation that includes videos and ethnographic documentation created by LI Traditions, along with interactive discussions on how to approach and interview maritime tradition bearers, the challenges they face, and the future of this occupational culture.
The 2nd component of the program is a hands-on workshop with four tradition bearers, all of whom make their living directly or indirectly on the water: Baywoman Flo Sharkey, commercial fisherman Joey Scavone, decoy carver George Rigby and boat builder Chris Hale. The students engage in learning the maritime traditions, learning how to carve a decoy, build a traditional boat using a model, learning to use a clam rake and learning to fix a gil net using traditional tools. In addition the students conduct short interviews with all the participants.
The 3rd component is a field trip to Oyster Bay, where the students meet Oyster Bay baymen Fred Menges and Bill Fetzer on the docks at their fishing boats, learning how the harbor has changed over time and the maritime heritage of the bay. They are introduced to the different marine life living in the bay. Following this the students participate in a hands-on oyster dredge sample with the Waterfront Center, on board the Sloop Christeen, a historic restored oyster dredge boat built in 1853. Students learn about the sustainability of shellfishing in Oyster Bay by learning firsthand how to hoist sails, work a simple dredge and examine what shellfish live in the harbor. They also learn how the design of the schooner suited the harbor.
The final component is a field trip to Freeport on the south shore, where students learn to fish on board the Dolphin, a charter fishing boat, guided by the crew and master recreational fisherman Reed Riemer. The students also learn about the bay’s ecology and the various kinds of fish that travel in the western bays. They also learn what kinds of bait fish respond to in this migratory estuary.
Long Island Traditions director Nancy Solomon comments “Our goal in this program to help Wheatley students understand our region’s connection to the maritime heritage of Long Island, past and present. At the same time we also hope that students will appreciate the knowledge that fishermen have to sustain their way of life.”
Funding for this program was made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA), NOAA and the National Park Service. It is the only maritime program supported by NYSCA in the state, and one of the longest running programs on Long Island.
[Thank you to Dr. Staudt for the program description and the photos from the trip to Oyster Bay on 20 May!]