Long Island farmers and fishermen on Saturday outlined many complicated and pressing problems to U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Their to-do list included: cleansing polluted bays by reconnecting them to the sea, obtaining an emergency permit to use a banned pesticide, policing counterfeit seafood, and securing seasonal workers despite an immigration crackdown.
Gillibrand, who stands for election in the fall and who might have presidential aspirations, vowed to “elevate” many concerns aired at a panel she convened that was hosted by the Ammerman campus of Suffolk County Community College in Selden.
To Bob Nolan, a New York Farm Bureau director, who described the labor shortage, she pledged to “take a good look” at the temporary worker program.
After Nolan also advocated for farmers barred from using a pesticide to fight cabbage maggot worms, she raised the possibility of a grant for Cornell University to develop an organic substitute.
“What do we do in the meantime?” asked Karl Novak, Long Island Farm Bureau president.
Referring to pesticide-makers, Gillibrand said: “They are just looking to make money in the short-term, not at the long-term good.” Gillibrand, a lawyer who formerly represented tobacco companies, also asked what products California used.
To Charles Witek, a recreational fisherman who said bills reauthorizing the main federal law regulating fish populations could jeopardize its science-based decisions, she said she would work on drafting an “oppositional” bill and contact her Republican counterpart on his proposal.
To Chuck Westfall, president, Long Island Oyster Growers Association, who decried how swiftly shellfish now die in nitrogen-fouled bays, she recommended redefining oysters and clams as a specialty crop in the next agriculture bill. That would let oyster- and baymen seek grants.
Westfall also said the engineers who had “choked” the bays off from the ocean by building causeways and pouring billions of dollars of sand on beaches should now work on relinking the bodies of water.
Gillibrand, who did not vow to elevate this concern, asked about the impact of the Fire Island breach cut by superstorm Sandy in 2012.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said the area around the breach was a “great example” of improved water quality, but noted both the Forge and Carmans rivers had been degraded.
To Sean Barrett, co-founder of Dock to Dish, sustainable seafood advocates, who described the flood of imported and mislabeled seafood local fishermen must compete with, Gillibrand proposed writing the regulatory agencies, and possibly the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
And she assured Steve Bate, acting director, Long Island Wine Council, she was familiar with tariffs Canada assesses on New York wine.
And Gillibrand promised to help after August Ruckdeschel, East End Projects Coordinator, Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning, explained the need for a local fish processing plant to avoid trucking seafood from Montauk to New York City and back to Long Island.
Offering to obtain grants, she said, "You just need to find someone willing to do it."