pier people

photos by Geralyn Shukwit

Earlier this month, the Brooklyn paper wrote this article on the derby and while riddled with factual and editing errors, it gave us a little bit of press and a springboard of sorts to launch a conversation. Particularly for this commenter NSP Resident to type out this screed:

Its a shame that fishing is allowed on the n 6th st pier, the fishermen are disgusting and they have turned the end of the pier into a filthy mess. to me they are the low lifes of society and need to be removed so that everyone can enjoy the pier, right now local residents and visitors are either intimidated by the low lifes or disgusted by the mess. the local residents are contacting the local authorities and have had a positive response, it is only a matter of time before fishing there is banned.

In case it’s not obvious to you, NSP stands for North Side Piers. Yeup, a guy standing in a shiny, expensive condo overlooking the pier is looking down on you guys fishing his the pier. Of course, I’m assuming it’s a guy. It may be a woman. Either way, this person who has bought his/her way into the worst eyesore in the neighborhood, the apotheosis of what I would call the transformation of Williamsburg from shitty neighborhood, to trendy neighborhood, to rich neighborhood whose newest citizens now feel the entitlement and need to weed out the riffraff, doesn’t like you fishing guys ruining his/her the pier for “everyone else.” It was only a matter of time before a character like this finally mustered up the balls to anonymously post such a comment on a small neighborhood-newspaper web site.

Of course to hear this person tell it, the end of the N5 pier is full of thugs and bums while the rest of the normal citizenry rarely passes into this zone demarcated by that hideous metal sculpture. And no normal person has any interest in what’s happening over there, none of us have ever had to take a group picture for anyone there, and none of us has ever heard the question, “What are you guys catching in the river?” or “Do you eat the fish out of here?” Because the visitors and residents are too intimidated to talk to the people who fish on the pier, right?

We know the reality, however. On a sunny, windy Saturday Don caught this fish and as soon as the many disparate people caught wind of something happening at the end of the pier, they came crowding over in a rush. These are people who came to see the sunset, people who were checking out the Brooklyn Flea Market, people walking with family and friends, people who live in these same buildings and in the same neighborhood as this NSP Resident. And everyone wanted to see what Don had at the end of his line. When the fish surfaced a collective cheer roared out over the crowd and there was a contagious sense of excitement and anticipation as we waited to see Denton gaff this gorgeous, fat, and healthy 37″ bass out of the water.

Maybe it is the allure of fishing, the modern-primal sense of wanting to see creatures pulled from the water. Especially water like this, the East River that has such a deservedly tarnished reputation (it’s getting better, slowly) after being abused by industry for so long. Everyone cracks the joke about three-eyed fish and mutants. I heard them last night at a party for Mina, and I’ll hear them again every time I tell people about the derby. But there wasn’t one person on that pier who saw the commotion and didn’t feel the urge to come see what it was. There wasn’t one person there with a camera who didn’t take a picture. The top photo shows less than 10 percent of the people who ran to see this fish come out of the water. And after several fruitless weeks fishing, Don’s face says it all.

The point of a reply to such a comment as posted by NSP Resident is that while it’s clear he’s never tried to talk to anyone who fishes the pier or engage them in any way except to silently judge them, the responsibility is ours too. Along the East River there are four places like this, four places that are legal for us to enter and to fish. Maybe in the future there will be more, but it’s partially up to us and how we represent ourselves to the ignorant public like this guy. I think we’ve done a good job so far: fishing is messy but it’s in our own interest to keep the piers clean. Unlike what this NSP Resident offers, a little bit of mutual respect and understanding goes a long way. And anyone who thinks someone like Denton is an intimidating and threatening presence on the pier, it’s a good bet they haven’t tried to talk to him. In the three years I’ve been involved in this derby and fishing the East River I’ve never once witnessed a bystander asking a fisherman about fishing and then getting shut down or disrespected. This is especially true if you are a good-looking woman.

Thanks to Geralyn for providing the photos.



12 thoughts on “pier people

  1. the preacher says:

    Why enter into a conversation??? We are allowed to fish, no debate. TO enter into one would be an admission of something wrong. Let the person bitch. Very few people would share the sentiment. blogs are just jumping boards for all views no matter how ridiculous.

    Funny to be prejudice against the “riff raff” in a hood like Williamsburg in which most of the residents try so hard to dress like Riff raff.

    Cut bunker on scraps of cardboard and throw it away afterwards. Tip the garbage people and thank the fisheries folks for checking illegal catches. Or even let a kid reel in a shorty, that’ll win the parents.

    Does “low life” mean poor fisherman, or does it mean prejudice ( probably racist) complainers?

  2. Shawn Hu says:

    Access to shoreline, especially in these “high class” areas such as N5th Pier, Gantry State Park, Wagner Park, and the many new piers on the hudson River, are all considered privileges, not a right. Especially with the State forking up the registration fees this year, and the next, tax payers are already not too happy about fisherman/women invading their high class neighborhoods. It’s important that we, as fisher-people, do our part, clean up after ourselves and those other fisher-people that constantly litter, and make the public aware that we are an added value to NYC’s culture, and that fisherman and fisherwomen are keeping an eye out, in the more remote of places, to keeping their high class neighborhoods a little safer at night when they sleep.

    We need to engage all negative perspectives such as this individual in order to preserve our privilege to fish these areas. Make no mistake, fishing in NYC, is a political issue of the rich vs the not-so-rich.

  3. Jane says:

    A deeply rooted, complex issue indeed. I just added my response on the Brooklyn Paper’s site. I’m aware that this is way too lengthy, but feel compelled to post here – especially since I plan to keep on holding post at the pier – at least until December.


    I am a second generation native NYCer. My mother was born in Manhattan, and my father in Brooklyn. I grew up going to different neighborhoods simply to look at different sized buildings, to listen to different languages, go to a particular bodega that carried that certain candy – to feel different “vibes”. But that’s no longer a reality of NYC living. If not already, New York City is rapidly becoming one carefully conceived homogeneous commodity. It is a brand – every aspect devised to convince that a “thing”, has a pulse, a character. NYC’s branders are the real estate developers complete with internal marketing departments. They’re the ones who have named every inch of land with a acronym like DUMBO, BoCoCa, NoHo, and Sty Heights fooling people into thinking that not only do neighborhoods still exist, but that new ones are developing. A name is not a neighborhood. A neighborhood is a community.

    There are a lot of assumptions being made – from the “article” to responses. We don’t know for certain that “nsp resident from Williamsburg” (who takes issue with fishing from North 5th Pier) actually does live in a new condo development. To assume that he does, is problematic in that it implies a binary issue which then leaves room for only binary thinking. It near impossible to productively discuss or even have online banter regarding conservation, development and gentrification in NYC without considering NYC’s history, general issues of urbanization, and local politics. This is particularly true to our urban coasts – be it ocean, river or canal. There is a reason why Manhattan’s 5th Avenue is a “prestigious” address. It is dead center of an island. It is as far away from the water you can be. To live by the water in NYC, used to mean that you were subjected to boat-based mercantile trade which was meant living alongside a shunned, working class people. Because of the transient nature of their lifestyle, many often held onto aspects of their original cultures and languages more than others, thus they were perceived as being “less American” and certainly not aspirational. People forget that water is literally, a financial stream. Ports and piers are hubs of commerce, pathways to other lands, and everything that is essential to the sustainability of a middle class in NYC. The long term negative perception of the residential areas around NYC’s waterways resulted in neglect. The neglect is what turns an area into a “bad neighborhoods”. Decades ago or now, it will always be true that no one wants to live in a “bad neighborhood”. That said,hardly anyone can afford to live in a “good neighborhood”. The result: an exodus of urbanites welcoming suburban life. NYC has gone through periods of concerted effort to maintain a middle class, most notably the development of middle income housing. Over the past ten years, the leases of most middle income housing projects have expired and the developers are thrilled to now charge “market value”. Truly overnight, people who have structured their entire lives paying $500 rent, are expected to pay $2,600. This is an impossibility.

    The point of all this? NYC has lost it’s middle class and the “good areas” and now overly populated which is the core reason why these waterfronts are being so built and hyped up. The once least-desired residential areas are now being presented as, “the best”. Just look at the website for the biggest new condo that now looms over the North 5th Street pier: http://www.williamsburgedge.com/ Most people who live in these “fancy new condos” are new to New York City. They truly don’t know and were victim to the real estate developer’s marketing. Take a look at the sites “Green” page: http://www.williamsburgedge.com/sustainable It’s loaded with morsels about sustainability, and even mentions having water efficient fixtures. I bet most people that moved in thought they were doing a good thing for the “neighborhood”.

    When I was younger the only way we verbally differentiated areas of the city was by calling part of Manhattan “downtown”, and the other part, “uptown”. And Brooklyn, well it was just Brooklyn. Now the only place I go that does not have a proper name, an acronym, or a copyright symbol is, the pier. Mike mentioned in this post that it’s near impossible to fish on the pier and not be asked a million questions. I’m always asked if fishing reminds me of home. The answer is yes.

    • Scott Behr says:

      I think you just scratched the surface. Especially with your enumeration about 5th ave, centers and the island of Manhattan itself in relationship to when the river was never even considered a recreational destination.. To stand back and behold it on a daily basis is inspiring, though I don’t ever care to live their again. Am I really writing this on a cell phone? The east river is magic in many ways. Please continue writing Jane!

  4. Jane says:

    Oh – I did not mean to imply that “NSP Resident” is not a North Side Piers Resident. And of course, I find “NSP Resident’s” response to be beyond offensive, unfounded and untrue. I think he/she is a rotten person – but not *because* they are a North Side Piers Resident.

    What has always concerned me, and what I see traces of in the follow up comments is the narrowing of a systematic problem into a one between one “group” of NYC residents vs another “group” – in this case, rich people vs. fisherpeople. This is typical divide and conquer strategy which, sadly works and has devastating results.

    “You are in no better position to reprimand their lifestyle. Your parent’s rent money does not buy you in.”

    “people that probably depend on that meager blue fish to supplement their daily substinence,then you need to get off your high horse and reflect on what you have contributed to the development of N. 6th ”

    “Everytime you set your dinner table on the 30th floor of your overpriced, undersized, dropping like a rock in value condo and you little elitist eyes look out onto the pier”

    There will never be a place for fisherpeople in nyc if the massive developers continue to run this city just as there will not be a place for *anyone* other than the extreme wealthy.
    And for folks to lump all fisherpeople in one “bucket” is problematic. I’ve never experienced such diversity in nyc as I have on the piers. And by diversity I mean; socio, economic, religious, cultural, ethnic – just as varied as our fishing techniques!

    Native NYCers, newcomers, people who work at The Edge, people who live in The Edge, people who fish with $300 rods, people who fish with spark plugs, people who cut their bait into 20 pieces, people who use the whole bunker, those that feed their families and those that families feed them all need to fight the fight together.

    On that note, I’m going to grab my pole and Occupy Wall Street.

  5. Preacher says:

    One moron (anonymous).. Not worth the argument, but I always love to read anything that Jane or Mikey write.

    Sport fishermen contribute 2 billion dollars ANNUALLY to the economy. Which gives us quite a bit of muscle, not to mention that we have advocacy groups that far outweigh the anti fishing groups. We are not going to get kicked off the pier esp, with one prejudice comment from a very strange person.

    And.. it is NOT a privilege to fish these waters it is absolutely a “Right”. The price of the nearby real estate does not mean anything. Ask Dick Cheney who fights tooth and nail to allow sport fishermen the right to cast their rod and reel anywhere they like as long as they are following the regulations. It was the one issue that he went against George W, about . When Pres W bush designated two huge island chains as off limits to any fishing in order to preserve Shark habitat. (thats right,, the greatest acts of shark preservation in USA history was done by mr W bush.)

    I have never used these four words before but… This is America Goddammit. Recreational uses of public spaces is a right.

    AND>.. we need to keep it clean. (Accept of course that the mess makes it necessary for the parks department to employ over ten clean up people… Leaving bunker mess creates jobs!!!)

    Good thing nobody is complaining about the pounds of lead left in the river everyday on the n 5th pier….Snags, snags, snags.

  6. Preacher says:

    hand painted, Artisan Lead free sinkers would be a great start up company for a williamsburg cool kid.

    Really though,,, pounds everyday, lost on all of the wood and rebar at N5th.

  7. Preacher says:

    Just so theres no confusion though… I voted Obama of course. (in my mind anyways, not actual voting, thats just silly). The redneckublicans just happen to fish more than the liberals

  8. Preacher says:

    I said 2 billion$ into economy by fishermen. i was way wrong. That is Hunters. Fishermen…
    “6.4 million jobs, with almost $300 billion in annual retail sales and services contributing $88 billion in annual federal and state taxes.”

    Thats a lot of muscle.

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