A Farewell To Fishermen’s Advocate Stuart Vorpahl

A Farewell To Fishermen’s Advocate Stuart Vorpahl

Stuart Vorpahl | photo courtesy New York Fish
Stuart Vorpahl | photo courtesy New York Fish

Stuart Vorpahl was one of the East End’s most vocal advocates for the rights of fishermen, one of East Hampton’s last true Bonackers, who lived his life by the 1686 Dongan Patent up until his final days, and could always be counted on to recount the way things were done in his hometown in times that are rapidly becoming a memory here.

Mr. Vorpahl died Thursday at Southampton Hospital at the age of 76, leaving behind his wife Mary, two daughters, Christine and Susan Vorpahl, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

A wake will be held on Sunday, Jan. 17, from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m., and on Monday, Jan. 18, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Yardley & Pino Funeral Home in East Hampton and the funeral will be held at the Amagansett Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, Jan. 19 at 11 a.m., followed by a reception at the Amagansett Fire Department.

Mr. Vorpahl, who was charged in the mid-1990s with fishing without a state license, mounted an argument that the 1686 Dongan Patent, granted by New York’s then-governor Thomas Dongan, gave him and all other freeholders and inhabitants of East Hampton the permanent right to fishing, hawking, hunting and fowling within the town’s borders, subject only to the regulations imposed by the East Hampton Town Trustees.

East Hampton, Southampton and Southold are the only three remaining towns that have Town Trustees charged with overseeing the common lands and fishing grounds in their towns.

”I abide by the trustees’ permits,” Mr. Vorpahl told The New York Times in 1998. ”The federal and state licenses are out of the loop. As far as I’m concerned they’re Johnny-come-latelys.”

Stuart Vorpahl works his pound traps | file photo
Stuart Vorpahl works his pound traps | file photo

Mr. Vorpahl fought the DEC on the case for more than a decade, and just last fall received a check for $1,000 from the DEC for the value of the 490 pounds fluke they’d confiscated from him back in 1998.

Mr. Vorpahl, who served as the official East Hampton Town Historian, often regaled the town board with stories from his life of fishing the town’s waters, and spoke passionately about a broad range of issues that affected the public’s rights, as recently as a November 2015 hearing on the town’s rental registry law.

“Stuart Vorpahl was a fierce defender of the rights and traditions of the common people of our town,” said East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell on Facebook Thursday evening. “He could spin a tale and recite history at will with a good sense of humor while making his point. When he passed away today we lost one of the most important advocates for fishermen and local residents. We will miss you, Stuart.”

“Rest easy Stuart… he was one of a kind, fisherman, writer, protector of ancient rights, storyteller, historian, an important figure in our town,” said former East Hampton Town Councilman Job Potter. “Following winds for you.”

Beth Young

Beth Young built her first boat out of driftwood tied together with phragmites behind her family’s apartment above the old Mill Creek Inn in Southold. Nowadays, she spends most of her time kayaking, learning about shellfish, writing newspaper stories, trying to sail a Sunfish, and watching the way the bay changes from day to day. You can send her a message at beth@peconicbathtub.com

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