James Foley, 42, of East Quogue, fillets fluke he caught to give out to Montauk residents. Credit: Chucky Morici

Newsday is opening this story to all readers as we provide Long Islanders with news and information you can use during the coronavirus outbreak. All readers can learn the latest news at newsday.com/LiveUpdates

Montauk fishermen came to the rescue of its local residents when they gave away more than 1,000 pounds of freshly caught fish to help those in need during the coronavirus crisis.

“The stores were going empty and people were panicking,” says Chucky Morici, 56, of Montauk, who has been a commercial fisherman in the area for 30 years. “We thought we’d help calm people down by doing the right thing and giving the fish away.”

Morici and his partner James Foley traveled 57 miles offshore on March 17 and had no idea about the pandemic panic happening on land.

“When we are out there, our cellphones don’t work. There’s really no communication,” says Foley, 42, of East Quogue, who has been a commercial fisherman since age 18 and runs a charter boat, The Hampton Lady. “After we got back into range, our phones started going ballistic about how the restaurants are closing and the local markets are running out of food.”

Upon returning with their catch, Morici and Foley put the word out via Facebook and started filleting the fluke for local senior citizens. The fire police from Montauk Fire Company No. 6 delivered the fish to seniors who couldn’t get to the dock.

“This is what we do in Montauk,” Morici said. “It’s a very unique community. We are very tight here.”

Apparently, the village population more than tripled unexpectedly and quickly.

“Everybody from Manhattan who was nervous about the coronavirus all panicked and traveled out east to their summer homes,” Foley said. “The village wasn’t prepared to have that kind of influx of people at this time of year. All the markets were wiped out, leaving the locals a little bit frustrated. It’s like a July Fourth weekend out here.”

After days filleting, packing and giving away more than 600 pounds of fluke, Morici and Foley had another idea. They packed the remainder of fluke, plus whiting, porgies and monkfish they caught, in ice and gave away the other 400-plus pounds of fish whole in the center of town out of a pickup truck.

“Nothing was wasted,” Foley said. “Each fish we caught went onto somebody’s plate.”

James Milano of North Babylon was thrilled when he got some fish Foley brought to him when they met in Smithtown after connecting on Facebook. 

“I couldn’t believe the size of the fillets he gave me. They must have been 15 pounders,” said Milano, 42. “It really helped out because my wife can only eat fresh foods … Now she has dinner for the week.”

Tom Connor of Farmingville appreciated the assistance when Foley delivered six big bags of fluke fillets for his out-of-work employees at TOMCO automotive in Bethpage.

“Jimmy gave them fish for all their families. They went crazy for it,” said Connor, 49. “I have one employee who cried because he was so blown away.”

Morici and Foley are ready to go out again next week when the weather clears.

“We are willing to step up and help out,” Morici said.

Newsday LogoYour Island. Your Community. Your News.Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months