Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Dongan Patent - Protecting The Rights of Future Fishermen

In the debate over saltwater licensing, pros and cons, you hear a lot of conversation about a state’s share of sportfish restoration funds through Wallop-Breaux. The Sport Fish Restoration Act is also referred to as the Dingell-Johnson Act, and was passed by Congress in 1950 as a program for the management, conservation and restoration of fishery resources. It established a new tax on fishing equipment including rods, reels, lures, flies and artificial baits, contributing a separate tax paid by the consumer with funds to go towards fish research, the reintroduction of declining sport fish species, restoration of aquatic habitats, aquatic education and construction of boat ramps and fishing piers. The Wallop-Breaux amendments were added in 1984 and extended the excise tax to previously untaxed items of sporting equipment.

Some of the funds in the angler-supported Sport Fish Restoration account are returned to states on a shared basis, with each state’s allocation based 60% on the actual number of licensed anglers and 40% based on the state’s land and water area. The Wallop-Breaux, Dingell-Johnson, Sport Fish Restoration argument challenges the individual angler to embrace the concept of paying an additional fishing tax so that a portion of the excise taxes already paid might be returned exclusively for sportfish. It should be noted that additional monies from this particular fund are also contributed to other programs on a federal level, including the Recreational Boating and Fishing Program (RBFF). In 2010, RBFF has an operating budget of more than $12.6 million, of which approximately $3.9 million will be spent to mobilize states to increase fishing license sales by “implementing an integrated marketing program targeted towards lapsed, occasional and new anglers.”

While many business leaders will no doubt embrace the idea of “new anglers” being driven to the consumer market, for the hardcore anglers who’ve already been driven out of the water due to overly restrictive regulations, it’s hard to fathom WHY more of this angler tax isn’t being returned to the anglers themselves in the form of data collection programs. Further misappropriation of funding and offloading of fish management salaries from account to another has in turn driven anglers to the history books in search of answers.

Take for example the Dongan Patent of 1686 in the Town of Brookhaven, NY. The Dongan Patent granted a handful of our pre-colonial founding fathers exclusive rights to all waterways, ponds, streams, brooks, wetlands, rivers and other estuaries, and actually helped establish a Trustee form of government that predated the establishment of the State of New York, and even the United States of America itself.

One of the original nine grantees of the town of East Hampton, NY on Long Island, Yeoman John Hand arrived in America from England around 1635. It is said that Hand and his wife Alice Gransden sailed to America aboard the "The Peter Bonaventurer," though it’s possible he may have arrived here with his father aboard the English Warship HMS Falcon. An early settler of East Hampton, Hand was a whaler by trade and a member of the whaling squadron from the third ward of Southampton. According to historian Clifford A. Hand of New York City, the patriarch of the Hand family died around 1660, leaving behind an estate which was said to include a great bible, two small bibles, a psalm book, one fowling piece, a carbine, a single pistol and a pair of swords.

John and Alice had several sons, including Stephen who was born in 1635 in East Hampton. Stephen was named in the Indian deed for East Hampton in 1660, and on November 3, 1668, he granted the town of East Hampton leave to put a highway through his woodland. He was a local Constable in 1674 and 1680. In 1683, he was chosen as one of a committee to join Southampton in selecting a representative for the First Colonial Assembly under Governor Thomas Dongan.

On December 9, 1686, Governor Thomas Dongan granted control over the lands and waters of East Hampton, to a locally elected board of trustees which included Thomas James, Capt. Josiah Hobart, Capt. Thomas Talmadge, Lieut. John Wheeler, Ensign Samuel Mulford, John Mulford, Thomas Chatfield, Sr., Jeremiah Conklin, Robert Dayton, Thomas Baker, Thomas Osborn, and Stephen Hand. In what became known as the Dongan patent, Hand and the other trustees were given rights to the local natural resources, “And that they and their successors, by the name of the Trustees of the Freeholders and commonality of the Town of East Hampton be and shall be forever in future times, persons able and capable in law, to have, perceive, and receive and possess not only all and singular the premises, but other messuages, lands, tenements, privileges, jurisdictions, franchises, hereditaments of whatsoever kind or species, they shall be to them and their successor.”

Stephen had a brother named Thomas who was born in Southampton in 1646 and lived in Wainscott on Long Island until about 1693, which s when he moved with other Hand family members to settle in Cape May County in New Jersey. It is said that Thomas left Long Island after a disagreement with the town of Easthampton over property rights regarding his 40 acres of land. Following a 1678 lawsuit - settled with the town sometime in 1697 - Thomas sold the rest of his land to brother James and sailed off to Cape May, NJ with his wife and children, a couple of brothers, and a handful of other East Enders looking for a new settlement.

Thomas Hand would become commissioned as a Justice of the Peace (Judge) of Cape May County in 1705, and later drowned in the Tuckahoe River in 1714. His son George, also born in Long Island (in 1675) had a daughter, Sarah, who was born in 1718 in their newly settled home in New Jersey. Sarah Hand later married Nicholas Stillwell, their daughter Hannah ultimately marrying Cape May revolutionary soldier and ship’s carpenter Remington Corson in 1759. The Corson’s daughter Amelia would marry shipbuilder James Godfrey Reeves, and their daughter Mary would go on to marry Henry Hildreth, keeper of the Hereford Inlet lighthouse from 1897 until 1902.

Hildreth was the recipient of the Congressional Silver Life Saving Medal when the schooner D.H. Ingraham went ashore at half past 10 p.m. on the night of December 4, 1886 during a heavy snowstorm amid heaving seas. With Capt. Christopher Ludlam at the helm, the seven-man crew (which included Hildreth and another Hand descendent from Long Island, Samuel S. Hand) pushed their surf boat out past the breakers, saving the crew from their foundering wreckage. More importantly, Hildreth’s daughter Edna Mae would go on to marry my great grandfather Henry Becotte, which led to my lifelong connection to the sea through my grandfather, Capt. James Becotte of Ocean City, NJ.

For the past 20 years, my father Jim Hutchinson, Sr. has been my best friend and favorite fishing partner, but it’s the black and white photograph of my grandfather Becotte and I on the dock of the bay in Ocean City following a bluefishing trip from the 1970’s which keeps me focused on the job I do every day at the Recreational Fishing Alliance. Would he approve? Would he want me to fight? How hard?

The science of fisheries management is a relatively new discipline, in place now only for about 30 years. But the attachment to our resources and these American maritime traditions have been fought and toiled over for more than 300 years but coastal residents. To think in terms of duty to the family I’ve known, it’s hard not to recognize the umbilical connection to the generations that have come before me, those I've never met. From the eastern end of Long Island to the southern tip of New Jersey, these hunting and fishing traditions are rooted in a deep blood line, from the Hands to the Hildreths, all the way down through the Hutchinsons. Giving away my rights as a conservationist and sportsman, arbitrating away access to our public resources, and allowing these freedoms granted at the founding of this nation would not only violate a mission I'm bound to protect at the RFA, it would have me turn my back on nearly nine generations that have come before me.

Today, six Long Island towns, including Southampton, Shelter Island and East Hampton have joined in a lawsuit against the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, charging that it has no authority to require saltwater fishing licenses without their consent. It’s reported that other towns may join the suit, standing behind the justification of a 313-year-old colonial-era Dongan Patent which confers responsibility for town land and waterways on locally elected trustees who know best about their coastal needs. The Dongan Patent isn’t just about the rights of sportsmen who live today in the Hamptons and other East End towns on Long Island however.

This historical document recognizes the colonial era spirit and the freedoms enjoyed by tens of thousands of fishing families in America today who refuse to either sell off or buy back our rights any longer. This is not just about a saltwater license – it’s about our coastal heritage, taxation without representation, and a bureaucracy run afoul of its promise to serve the best interests of the people.

Yes, my grandfather would’ve wanted me to fight, as would those who came before, and those who will eventually follow.

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