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3 East End towns block state saltwater fishing law

Three East End towns went to court Wednesday and temporarily blocked the state Department of Environmental Conservation from implementing a new law requiring saltwater fishing licenses.

As a result, those licenses will not be required in Southampton, East Hampton and Shelter Island waters, at least until Oct. 13, when a court in Central Islip will hold a hearing to determine if the ban should be made permanent.

Each town argued in State Supreme Court in Riverhead that the state cannot impose a saltwater license requirement - which was to take effect today - because, under the original Colonial patents that created those towns, the authority to regulate marine resources was given exclusively to the town trustees.

Officials in Southold, Riverhead and Brookhaven are looking to see if they can join in the lawsuit. The Colonial patents in those towns - Riverhead was carved out of Southold and has no independent patent - are worded in a different manner and must be reviewed, town officials said.

A DEC spokeswoman in Albany said her agency would not be commenting on the lawsuit.

Suffolk Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches) appeared at a news conference on the steps of the old Riverhead courthouse Wednesday, saying he supported the legal action and would look into whether the county could block the license.

Romaine estimated that at least 25,000 people in Suffolk would need the $10 license. State officials have projected that the licenses statewide would bring in $2.5 million.

The saltwater licenses are bitterly opposed on the East End, where town trustees - elected local officials with broad powers to regulate the natural resources in their towns - say it is an attempt by the state to take over powers given exclusively to them before the United States was created, and repeatedly ratified down through the centuries.

"We're all about history," said Edward J. Werner Jr., a Southampton Town trustee. "We've protected our history down through the years. . . . It's a pretty cool thing to do."

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