In their first meeting of 2012, members of East Hampton Town’s ad hoc fisheries committee voted to recommend that the town board reappoint Arnold Leo, secretary of the East Hampton Town Baymen’s Association, to act as its consultant.
The job, which often requires the consultant to attend fishery management meetings up and down the coast, pays $15,000 per year. After the vote, Rick Etzel, the committee chairman, told fellow members he would inform the town board of the committee’s wishes.
The vote did not please all 11 members, who represent both commercial and recreational industries. And it did not please Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, who last February refused to reappoint Mr. Leo despite the fact that the committee had voted unanimously to keep him on, and despite the fact that Mr. Leo had been willing to serve even though the annual budget was cut from $40,000 to $15,000. He became the town’s first fisheries consultant in 2007. Yesterday, Mr. Wilkinson said it would be the town board’s decision.
Last February, Mr. Wilkinson insinuated that Mr. Leo, as secretary of the Baymen’s Association, was a commercial fisheries advocate, had not given equal representation to all the town’s marine industries. In a vote of 3 to 2 along Republican and Democratic lines respectively, Mr. Leo was removed from his post on Feb. 2 after the supervisor claimed the consultant had not gotten results during his tenure.
His opinion was not shared by Paul Forsberg of Montauk’s Viking Fleet of party boats, who submitted a letter saying “his performance for both the commercial and for-hire fisheries has been excellent.”
Mr. Leo’s pre-consultancy history includes his prominent role in the heated conflict between commercial and recreational fishermen over striped bass regulations in the late 1980s and early ’90s and the subsequent divvying up of awards won during a successful class action suit brought by New York commercial and for-hire fishermen against the General Electric Company.
The company dumped tons of polychlorinated biphenyls, or P.C.B.s, into the Hudson River over many years. The contamination caused the State Department of Environmental Conservation to ban the sale of striped bass, anadromous fish that swim far up the Hudson to spawn.
To this day, some in the charter boat industry insist that as the town’s consultant Mr. Leo will always favor commercial fisheries to the detriment of recreational interests.
Apparently, this fear did not prevail during Friday’s committee vote.
“It’s not a matter of liking Arnold. He does a great job and he’s inexpensive,” said Bob Valenti, owner of the Multi-Aquaculture Systems business on Napeague and a fisheries committee member.
By “inexpensive,” Dr. Valenti was referring to the fact that Eric Braun, a former landings-data collector for the National Marine Fisheries Service, and Mr. Leo’s successor, had charged the town $60 per hour for his time, using over half of the committee’s 2011 budget while attending one three-day meeting in Virginia last year. “What the committee did without Arnold was shit,” Dr. Valenti said.
Reached yesterday morning, Supervisor Wilkinson said that although he had not officially received the committee’s recommendation, he assumed it was coming. He said it would be presented to the town board.
“I came into this during my first term under concern from recreational fishermen that their views were not being promoted, but I’m going to listen to the committee. I’m not so thickheaded as to say it’s my way or the highway. It will be aired to the entire board, but my views are not changing.”
The supervisor said he might ask Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc to serve as liaison to the fisheries committee. Mr. Van Scoyoc said yesterday that he thought the subject of Mr. Leo’s reappointment might be addressed at the board’s Tuesday work session.