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Cross Bay Bridge ban snares small fishermen

“It’s much better fishing from up there,” said Jose...

By Daniel Massey

A crowd of fishermen cast their lines into the water off the Rockaway promenade at the foot of the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge last Thursday, but the fish weren’t biting as they had in the past.

“It’s much better fishing from up there,” said Jose Hernandez, a Manhattan parking attendant who treks to the Rockaways twice a week to fish, pointing toward the bridge. “The water is much cleaner and the fish bite better.”

Due to threats of terrorism following the Sept. 11 attacks, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Bridges and Tunnels division outlawed fishing from the seven bridges it operates, including the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge. The prohibition has chased regulars like Hernandez from their favorite spots along the span that connects Broad Channel with the Rockaway peninsula.

Dan Tubridy, a Broad Channel resident who has fought against the toll on the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge for years, said the ban on fishing was unnecessary.

“I can understand banning fishing on the Whitestone Bridge on the Triboro on the Verrazano. But this is the Cross Bay,” he said. “The MTA said we’re concerned about a terrorist attack and somebody blowing up our bridges. There are five million targets in New York City. These are people who eat their fish.”

As salsa music sounded from a portable stereo last Thursday and cheeseburgers cooked on a charcoal grill, a group of fishermen on the Rockaway promenade said the counter terrorism measure has severely cut into their haul.

“We used to catch a lot of fish on the bridge,” said Willie Cintron, a Rockaway painter who had fished off the bridge for six years. “It was a good fishing spot. If they just had security it wouldn’t be a problem.”

Now, they are confined to the walkway, which runs perpendicular to the bridge on the Rockaway side. The stretch had also been closed following the attacks, but was reopened about three months ago, the fishermen said. They have also been booted from a favorite spot behind Beach Channel High School and from the jetties on Beach 88th Street.

“We don’t have anywhere to fish anymore,” said Luis Santiago, another painter from the Rockaways, who used to feed his family with his catch.

“It’s affected the fishermen because they can’t catch certain fish,” said Joe, who owns Bridge Bait & Tackle on the Rockaway side of the bridge, but would not give his last name. The fishermen said they regularly caught fluke, striped bass, and blue fish from atop the bridge, but have not been as lucky from the promenade, where the water is more shallow and murky.

Joe said his business struggled when the promenade was closed, but has been able to survive since its reopening. He noted that his counterpart across the bridge was not as lucky, but said he heard the bridge may reopen for fishing next year.

In the shadows of the bridge on the Broad Channel side, a lock secured the door of the Broad Channel Bait & Tackle shop, which has gone out of business.

“Fishing brings a lot of cash to the Rockaways so I don’t understand why they’re getting rid of it,” said Cintron.

Frank Pascual, a spokesman for MTA Bridges and Tunnels, said the prohibition was “for security since Sept. 11.” He did not know if the bridge would eventually reopen for fishing.

“It’s difficult to say,” he said. “The world has changed so much since Sept. 11 that the protection of our facilities is among the most serious tasks we have. The safety of the public that uses them is our highest priority.”

Pedestrians are still permitted to walk across the bridge, but they must keep moving, added Pascual.

Meanwhile, the fishermen, normally defined by their resignation, are becoming restless.

“You don’t see anybody catching any fish now,” said Santiago. We’re losing patience.”

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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