The South Fork is famous for its vistas and golden beaches, but it is also well known for its cornucopia of shellfish.
“Shellfish” refers to anything from oysters, escallops, hard clams, soft clams, razor clams, surf clams, periwinkles, conchs, crabs, shrimp, all types of mussels, and slipper shells. But you cannot just head down to the old creek or to the bay and scoop them up in Southampton and East Hampton Town without a proper permit.
In Southampton it doesn’t matter if you’re a permanent resident, a summer resident, or just visiting for a few days, you can—and must—apply for a permit. If you’re a permanent resident all you need to do is go down to town hall to the office of the Southampton Trustees and fill out an application, or print one out online from the town’s website by clicking on the “Elected Officials” tab, and selecting the “Office of the Town Trustees” tag. Once complete, all that is needed is proof of residency or taxpayer status, which can be provided by showing a valid New York State driver’s license with an address within the town’s jurisdiction.
If you’re not a town resident, you must apply for a nonresident permit. The nonresident permit offers three choices to select from with the according payment information: $10 up to 15 days, $20 up to 30 days, or $40 up to 60 days.
The only exception in which a shellfish or crab may be taken without obtaining a permit is by one guest of a Residential Permittee, if accompanied by such permittee. This exception is nontransferable for commercial purposes. (Like if you’re planning to start a crab house with one crab—or one crab gathered with every one of your friends.) I suppose, you could go down to the beach with two friends and pass your permit back and forth as your friends crab one at a time.
You have to be a town resident in the Town of East Hampton to clam or crab, no exceptions.
“We do not have shellfish fishing for nonresidents,” informs a spokeswoman in the East Hampton Town Clerk’s office, “it’s strictly for residents only.”
If you’re a town resident in East Hampton Town, the process is almost identical to Southampton’s procedure: fill out an application down at the Town Clerk’s office or print out the application online, under the “Town Clerk” tab and promptly return to the Town Clerk’s office for final approval.
However, these permits are for recreational endeavors only.
In Southampton, in order to catch shellfish for commercial purpose—the taking of shellfish for any use or purpose other than for food consumption by the person taking or by such person’s immediate family or household—must buy a Commercial Permit from the Board of Trustees.
This is a completely different procedure with its own set of rules and regulations.
Shell fishing has long been a popular hobby among South Forkers as well as all Long Islanders.
Marc Giglio, a fairly new resident to Heady Creek in Southampton, says, “I love clamming. I mean, I’m new to the South Fork and all, but not new to Long Island clamming.”
Giglio recalls spending warm, sun-soaked summers out in his parent’s summer home in Mastic Beach. “I love to fish, and I love to shell fish,” he adds.
This unnaturally warm spring has been an aberration from chilly past Aprils and should make for a remarkable crabbing season. The best time to go crabbing is on high tide. Crabbing on hot, sunny August days is better than colder June days. Shallow water is ideal for crabbing, especially if you’re doing it the old fashioned way—with a piece of chicken and a string. Just be sure that—if the crabbing police show up with guns drawn—you’ve got that permit handy.