Maritime Culture Studies


Roslyn NewsWheatley’s College Regional Studies, a dual-enrollment course between Wheatley and Stony Brook University, is a unique hands-on program for 12th graders which studies government and economics through the lens of Long Island and New York City.
As part of the curriculum, Long Island Traditions and the East Williston School District, in partnership, explores the traditional maritime culture in the age of Sandy and the decline of commercial and recreational fishing on Long Island. This course is taught by Wheatley social studies teacher Dr. John Staudt.
For the past five years Dr. Staudt’s College Regional Studies students have been using the fishing industry as a model to examine the occupational and recreational traditions of fishermen and baymen on Long Island, focusing on Nassau County’s north and south shores. They learn about the tools and traps, boats and nets and rods and bait that are used by recreational and commercial fishermen from various communities on Long Island, identified by folklorist Nancy Solomon, executive director of Long Island Traditions. They also learn about the traditional design principles embodied in the apparatus and how they have changed over time.
Each April, the maritime program begins with an introduction to maritime culture, fieldwork methods and conducting oral histories, led by Solomon. She presents a PowerPoint presentation that includes videos and ethnographic documentation created by Long Island Traditions, along with interactive discussions on how to approach and interview maritime tradition bearers, the challenges they face, and the future of this occupational culture.
A second component of the program is a hands-on workshop with four tradition bearers, who make their living directly or indirectly on the water: Baywoman Flo Sharkey, commercial fisherman Joey Scavone, decoy carver George Rigby and boat builder Chris Hale. Students engage in learning the maritime traditions, learning how to carve a decoy, build a traditional boat, learning to use a clam rake and learning to fix a Gil net using traditional tools. In addition, students conduct short interviews with all the participants.
The third component is a field trip to Oyster Bay, where the students meet baymen Fred Menges and Bill Fetzer on the docks at their fishing boats, learning how the harbor has changed over time and the maritime heritage of the bay. Students participate in a hands-on oyster dredge sample with the Waterfront Center, on board the Sloop Christeen, a historic restored oyster dredge boat built in 1853. They learn about the sustainability of shell fishing in Oyster Bay, learn firsthand how to hoist sails, work a simple dredge, examine what shellfish live in the harbor, and learn how the schooner’s design is suited for the harbor.
The final component is a field trip to Freeport on the south shore, where students learn to fish on board the Dolphin, a charter fishing boat, guided by its crew and master recreational fisherman Reed Riemer. The students also learn about the bay’s ecology, the various kinds of fish that travel in the western bays and the kinds of bait fish used in this migratory estuary.
“Our goal in this program is to help Wheatley students understand our region’s connection to the maritime heritage of Long Island, past and present,” said Solomon. “At the same time we also hope that students will appreciate the knowledge that fishermen have to sustain their way of life.”

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Joe Scotchie is the editor of both The Roslyn News and New Hyde Park Illustrated News. In 2009, he won a New York State Press Association award for a sports feature. Joseph Scotchie’s past publications include biographies of Thomas Wolfe and Richard Weaver and a comprehensive history of the city of Asheville, North Carolina.


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