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The men and women of Bridgehampton have relied upon the land and the sea for food, commerce and entertainment for generations. Peoples' livelihoods and fortunes were made and lost on the water. The rich, multifaceted community of people that have made their livings on the sea are forever tied to the identity of our community. We strive to continue to take care of our local waterways, ocean and the surrounding lands in order to continue to benefit from the abundance of resources and life that the sea provides.

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Photograph depicting Mecox Bay with summer residences in the background 
Attributed to the collection of Ernest Clowes.

 

Mecox Bay with summer residences in background, c. 1900
black and white photograph
Mecox Bay is a unique coastal location. It is the largest salt pond on the South Fork of Long Island, consisting of approximately 1,100 acres of brackish water and home to millions of shellfish, many types of fish and wildfowl, including two bird species that are listed as endangered or threatened.
On its shores are lands that have been farmed for centuries and approximately 300-plus family homes. Mecox Bay is fed by fresh water draining from the surrounding region. It is separated from the ocean by a sand bar that connects Flying Point and Scott Cameron Beaches.
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Natural processes open a temporary channel between bay to ocean, which allows the bay drain and be refreshed with seawater from the incoming tide, fish go back and forth (and, more recently, pollution gets flushed out to sea) until those same natural forces close the channel. 
 
The Cut at Mecox Bay, c. 1900
black and white photograph from the collection of Ernest Clowes
Mecox Bay is valued for its natural beauty and biodiversity and is one of Southampton’s greatest natural assets. Blessed with a wide variety of aquatic and terrestrial habitats, the region is recognized as significant coastal fish and wildlife habitat by both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the New York State Department of State. 
A center for migratory and wintering shorebirds and waterfowl, the area also boasts abundant shell fisheries, including prime American Oyster (Crassostrea virginica) grounds, ribbed mussel (Geukensia demissa), soft shell clam (Mya arenaria), and blue craw crab (Callinectes sapidus).
The area is also home to several endangered bird species including the piping plover (Charadrius melodus).
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Plovers, May 2022 Photograph ©Jay Rand 
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Ocean Road, Old Lifesaving Station Pilings
and Beach Club, 2000
A vibrant destination for beach lovers, fisherman, sailors, bird watchers, photographers, and artists. The bay and beach offer irreplaceable open space and unique recreational and commercial experiences and are, for that reason, treasured by residents and visitors alike.
A haven for commercial and recreational baymen, Mecox Bay also abounds in natural scenery and is widely acclaimed as one of the most important coastal resources on Long Island’s East End. 
Without question, the bay is an integral part of the town’s culture and identity, and is inextricably linked to the environmental and economic health of the town. 
This head is not attached to a tapered pole as eels spears typically were. The poles range from 10-20 feet in length
This spear has a flat, metal head with a central un-barbed prong and six barbed prongs on either side.
This is a spear for catching the American Eel (Anguilla rostrata). When thrust into mud, the tines capture the eel because of its natural inclination to twist back and forth. Eels prefer muddy bottoms and calm waters. They are nocturnal, and during the day hide under rocks or in mud. Spears are used particularly in the colder months when eels burrow into the mud and remain inactive.
 
Six Prong Eel Spear, c.1900s
cast iron
13in.(33 cm)from mounting socket to tip center blade 
11in.(27.9 cm) from edge of right barb to edge of left
The American eel (Anguilla rostrata) and its closely linked cousin, the European eel (Anguilla anguilla), are catadromous, meaning Atlantic eels spend most of their lives in freshwater or brackish tidal environments. American Eels range from Greenland to Brazil. They only return to the ocean to spawn and then die.
 
In February, mature eels return to the Sargasso Sea (Atlantic waters northeast of the West Indies) to spawn and then die. Females lay twenty to thirty million eggs that hatch into larvae that are carried by currents to areas along the Atlantic coast. Drifting larvae develop into "glass eel" then turn into the pigmented or "elver" stage at 2 inches, then move into freshwater rivers and streams, estuarine, and marine waters. Here the "yellow eels" mature for 3 to 40 years. "Silver eels" complete sexual maturation as they return to the Sagasso Sea.
This head is not attached to a tapered pole as eels spears typically were. The poles range from 10-20 feet in length.

 

Five Prong Eel Spear, c.1900s
cast iron 
22 ½ in.(55.9 cm)from mounting socket to tip center barb
6 in.(15.2 cm)from edge of right barb to edge of left barb.

The spear measures 1 ½ in.(3.8 cm) in diameter at the mount
 
Spearing Near Lake Ellsmere, Canterbury, New Zealand, ©State Library Victoria (Australia)
Since the colonial period, baymen and fishermen have trapped eels in the south shore estuary during the spring and fall. They are harvested for export to Asian countries, but also for local markets throughout the south shore of Long Island 
Some baymen use eel spears, a practice that was once common in the 1800s and 1900s. These spears were made by local blacksmiths for baymen. Other baymen also use combs, so named because they resemble hair combs made of steel.
This heads is not attached to a tapered pole as eels spears typically were. The poles range from 10-20 feet in length.

 

Two Five Prong Eel Spears, c.1900s
cast iron 
Top: 6 x 13 in. (15.2 x 33 cm) 
bottom: 5 x 14 in. (12.7 x 35.6 cm)
each spear measures 1 ½ in. (3.8 cm) mount diameter
 
Bridgehampton Museum eel traps
Baymen use traps similar in appearance to killey traps, with some important differences. Eel traps have two exterior funnels, and one interior funnel connecting the two chambers in the trap, also called pots. Many times, horseshoe crabs are used for bait. The pots are placed in deeper waters than killie(a variety of baitfish)traps, for a period of several days.
 
The American Eel stock is considered depleted by the ASMFC. In Maryland, glass eel and elver fisheries are prohibited. The size minimum is 9 inches. A commercial fishery seasonal closure was introduced in 2014, and small eel pot mesh sizes are being eliminated.
Whaling has a rich history on Long Island, from the many indigenous tribes to the European colonists.
Indigenous Americans saw value in every part of the whale while European Americans were primarily after oil made from their blubber.
By the mid-1700s, finding whales near the Atlantic coast became increasingly difficult. American whaling expanded its operations throughout the world's oceans peaking in the mid-1800s.
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Claus Hoie, From "The Log of the Whaler Helena,
Watercolor on paper
 
Sperm Whale Tooth,
Bridgehampton Museum Collection
Many whales have what is called baleen in their mouths. A thick hair like filter-feeding system where shrimp, krill and small fish are caught as whales take in huge mouthfuls of water. But some, like the Sperm Whale, are what are known as toothed whales. Sperm whales are in face the largest toothed predator in the world.
Photograph depicting a beached whale, responding police officer and local bystanders in 1944. From the photograph collection of Harry Squires.
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Beached Whale, February 25, 1944
black and white photograph
 
Sperm Whale Tooth,
Bridgehampton Museum Collection
This single tooth is banana shaped, with a slight curve; towards the sperm whale's body. It can reach up to eight inches in length and weigh over two pounds.
 
Sperm whales have between 20-26 teeth-all located on their bottom jaw.
Reenactment photograph taken at Addison Topping's House across from Sagg Cemetery during the 300th Anniversary of the founding of Bridgehampton. 
The crew of a whaling boat: Howard Hand (Wainscott), Elisha Osborn (Wainscott), Gilbert P. Rogers (Sagg), Warren F. Topping (Sagg), Bob Tillotson (Sagg)

 

300th Anniversary Forefathers’ Whaleboat, 1956
photograph by Robert Tillotson
original:8 x 10 in.(20.3 x 25.4 cm)
Surfcasting in Bridgehampton is a popular pastime, nearly year round. It is enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.

 

Surf Casting, Ocean Road, Bridgehampton at Sunset, 2007
color photograph
image from the Bridgehampton Archive 
There are many tools and techniques used by seasoned fisherman. Nets, traps, harpoons, hooks, spears, and rods are all employed in order to catch the abundant sea life that our ocean and surrounding waterways have to offer.
 
We have a small selection of these implements currently on view in the Nathaniel Rogers House. 
 
Installation detail of "EBB & Flow",
Bridgehampton Museum
Making a living as a commercial fisherman on Long Island is not easy.  Working the sea to survive is a hard life.  We honor the men and women who continue this noble profession in our area and everywhere else. 

detail metal trap in Bridgehampton Museum collection
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