Fishing on Long Island: From the Ocean to Your Plate

Fishing on Long Island: From the Ocean to Your Plate



A hand-rolled cigarette in one hand, a can of beer in the other, Ross Michael sits shirtless, sunning his tattoos aboard the Miste Rose docked at the commercial fishermen’s pier just inside the mouth of Montauk Harbor, and watching the competition unload at the neighboring fish market. It’s a well-earned break for the dreadlocked 36-year-old who, unlike the grizzled old seadogs a few slips away, isn’t so wary of outsiders he won’t share a few fish stories. “It’s really good money,” he says, recalling months-long, deep-sea so-called “long-line” voyages. “It’s not Deadliest Catch, but we work really, really hard. We work crazy hours and break our backs.” As if catching sea bass and konch for money didn’t make him a living relic of Long Island’s oldest profession—a feat not uncommon in these parts—he works for a crew that is one of only three lobster boats left on The End. The Greenwich, Conn., native is hopeful the species is rebounding and scoffs at the lobster-hungry Hamptonites with no clue how hard the crustaceans are to catch. “Never trust the first pot,” he says, quoting his captain, Ace, referring to the traps with which they catch their pincher-clad livelihood. “Either you get nothing, or you get a lot.”



Upwards of 15,000 pounds of fish daily pass through Asa Gosman’s family’s wholesale fish market. A member of the storied Gosman clan who run a cluster of Montauk shops and restaurants where Irish brogues are often overheard, he speaks proudly of the biggest operation in the heart of New York State’s largest commercial fishing port, explaining how the work days start at the crack of dawn and run long, same as those of his suppliers. “There’s more fish here than anywhere else,” says Gosman, 36, noting how the geography turned this community into a working museum of the Island’s fishing industry. “Where you have bodies of water meeting, you’re gonna have more fish.” Much has changed since the family business was established here seven decades ago. “Montauk’s gotten a lot busier and the consumer’s gotten a lot more demanding…Chefs have gotten more creative with their dishes.” From here, hundreds of restaurants are kept in stock with fresh seafood. Every day a company delivery truck filled with fish makes a roundtrip drive to New York City, 120 miles each way. “We try to specialize in local fish, but we also sell everything,” he says. “If you look at somebody’s menu, they’re gonna have 10 or 15 different seafood items. Half will be local, half will be from somewhere else.”



Amid a strip of trendy restaurants drawing tourists to uptown Montauk sits The Dock, the local pub where out-of-towners mingle with fishermen docked outside while Theresa “TD” Dettori cooks some of the freshest seafood found this side of the Shinnecock Inlet. They’re known for their tuna melt: grilled tuna steak with cheese on an English muffin. Their seafood supplier, Gosman’s, is right next door, and some of the fishermen who supply their wholesaler are regulars here. One of them was Frank Mundus, the legendary shark fisherman who was the inspiration for Captain Quint in Jaws. “I actually opened Mick Jagger’s clams,” says Dettori, 54, with a smile that belies how hot it is working in a kitchen in the summer heat. The Rolling Stones frontman and his band spent time here in the ’70s, jamming at Andy Warhol’s beach house, writing songs—Memory Motel downtown inspired one. “Back in the old days, we used to get a lot of long-liners from Down South, and they’re a pretty rough crowd,” she says. “They don’t really come to Montauk anymore.” She glances across the bar at the familiar faces she’s gotten to know in her 35 years here. “These people are here probably six days a week, if not seven,” she says. “Same people, same seats, same routine.”



Seated with their two young sons at The Dock during happy hour are Andrea and Orhan Saraylil of Westchester, a young family celebrating their annual pilgrimage to Montauk by ordering some freshly caught dinner from the sea. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Andrea says of the grilled tuna melt, which The Dock claims to have invented. In between cutting up a grilled cheese for the two toddlers—well-behaved kids who don’t invoke one of the bar’s rules: “Take screaming children outside”—Orhan, a banker, says: “I don’t think I would have gotten this if it weren’t right here,” gesturing to his view of the fishermen’s pier. Asked why they drove to the farthest-flung outpost of LI, Andrea says it was a split verdict. “The beach, the food, I guess that’s why,” she says, noting ironically while this reporter interrupts her dinner that the lack of media attention is also a draw. “It’s very low-key, I feel very comfortable.”