Charles Wertz, 72, longtime fisherman, advocate, dies

Charles Wertz, a commercial fisherman from Freeport who fought the tightening of federal fishing quotas as president of the West End Fishermen's Association, died Friday after a 26-month battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 72.

Family and friends remembered Wertz for his physical and mental strength, his work ethic and his ability to spar verbally with fishery bureaucrats.

"You would not meet a tougher man," said his son, Chuck Wertz, also a Freeport fisherman.

Charles Wertz was born in Jamaica Hospital and grew up in Freeport. He paid his way through Farmingdale State College while working as a bayman, trapping lobsters, eels and crabs, and raking clams. He earned an associate degree, worked briefly for Grumman, but returned to the water after he was laid off.

He bought a lobster boat that once had been used to haul cadavers for burial at Hart Island, he told Newsday in 2010. Wertz eventually accumulated licenses to fish for multiple species in state and federal waters, and made money "hand over fist" with his commercial trawler, the Norseman, he said.

But Wertz found it increasingly difficult to make a living as regulators tightened quotas. When the state's share of the vital fluke fishery was slashed, he fought back.

Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, said Wertz pushed hard but couldn't persuade New York to sue to increase its share.

Wertz suspected his activism made him a target for federal agents, who raided his home last March. Days before, he'd attended a Washington rally to rail against federal scallop fishing quotas. He was never charged with any wrongdoing.

Chuck Wertz called his father "my best friend" -- a man who showed tremendous physical strength even as his health declined.

The night superstorm Sandy struck, two of Charles Wertz's skiffs in the canal behind his home pulled free of the dock. He jumped in and brought them both back.

"He was a very hardworking man, strong as a bull," agreed fellow commercial fisherman Anthony Joseph, who noted Wertz lived well beyond the expected life span for his cancer.

In addition to his son, Wertz is survived by two daughters, Christine Feild, of Knoxville, Tenn., and Melissa Atkins, of Indianapolis; three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. His wife, Joann, died in 1999.

A service for Wertz will be held on Saturday from 2-4 p.m. at Hungerford & Clark funeral home, 110 Pine St., in Freeport.

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