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State Assembly leader tours South Fork for a crash course in farming, fishing

Stony Brook University Professor Christopher Gobler, right, gives

Stony Brook University Professor Christopher Gobler, right, gives a tour of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences to visiting New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, center, and Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), left, on Stony Brook's eastern campus in Southampton on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie got a crash course in East End farming, fishing and environmental issues in a Tuesday afternoon tour of the South Fork.

Heastie (D-Bronx), who was elected to lead the Democratic-controlled Assembly in February, was visiting the district of Assembly colleague Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor). Heastie said he hoped to "get a visual" of issues Thiele has talked about in the Assembly.

"In New York, geography is very important," Thiele said, saying legislators from Long Island, New York City and upstate compete for different priorities.

Over three hours, the speaker visited a vineyard, a fishing dock and a marine science laboratory, and was peppered with questions and opinions about a proposed minimum-wage hike, fishing regulations, environmental funding and other topics.

Heastie has toured roughly 30 Assembly districts over the past several weeks, a spokesman for the speaker said. He visited the Setauket-area district of Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) earlier Tuesday.

At Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack, East End farmers emphasized the difficulty of keeping their industry alive amid some of the most expensive real estate in the country. They stressed the importance of land-preservation programs in sustaining agriculture in the area.

Long Island Farm Bureau director Robert Carpenter said farmers were "very, very concerned" about a proposal to raise the state's minimum wage to $15 an hour. Because the market determines farmers' prices, he said, they can't easily pass added costs to their customers.

Heastie predicted higher wages would put more money into the economy and raise revenue. "We're not looking to put anyone out of business," he said, but people working 35 or 40 hours a week "shouldn't have to live in poverty."

At the Shinnecock commercial fishing dock in Hampton Bays, fishermen crowded around the speaker and tried to explain the complex web of federal and state regulations that limit their catches.

"I never realized catching fish was this complicated," Heastie said.

The speaker was joined at various points in the tour by officials, including state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, East Hampton Village Mayor Paul Rickenbach Jr. and Sagaponack Village Mayor Donald Louchheim.

Heastie, a Stony Brook University graduate, ended his visit at the university's East End satellite campus, Stony Brook Southampton. Scientists and environmental activists explained efforts to combat water pollution and develop new wastewater technology on Long Island, and stressed the need for funding.

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