Sunday, October 20, 2013

Game Warden Files--More Clam Wars

The Great Clam Wars were fought on Long Island's Great South Bay in the late 1970's; but we had a smaller war in Jamaica Bay throughout the 1980's.  The one episode I recounted earlier was but one of many.  We often dealt with what we called "mess diggers," folks who just went out and dug a mess of clams for personal use.  The problem was that when we watched them, we couldn't tell if they were just taking one mess or if they were filling bags in their cars and then selling them at local restaurants.  Though taking any shellfish in the bay was illegal, we didn't spend a lot of time on the mess diggers unless we got a complaint or thought they might be doing it on a large enough scale to be selling them.

One complaint was about a particular area of Rockaway where at low tide the mud flats would have a dozen or so diggers--nearly every day.  The neighborhood there was dominantly black and since we had just hired a few black officers we had them go in shorts and sneakers down to blend in with the locals.  We had no idea how well that would work.  Our officers took a large boom box, a cooler of drinks and a couple chairs and went to sit for a while along the shore as the tide went out.  A couple other officers and I watched from a distance.  As the tide went out, a number of folks started to make their way out onto the flats and begin the process of working their feet into the mud and finding the clams.  After a while they made their way to shore with 5 gallon plastic pails well filled with the clams.  Our guys identified themselves and the rest of of arrived to back them up.  We cited about 5 folks for taking shellfish from uncertified waters that day.  One of them turned out to be wanted for criminal sale of a controlled substance, so after we dealt with him, we turned him over to Nassau County for his charges.  We caught a few others in the area over the following months and all seemed to be connected to that first group in some way.   As a matter of fact, it would turn out that the guy who'd had the warrant was pretty much the ringleader of the bunch.  

It was a cold day in February or March and we found a few diggers working the flats in that area again.  We hid our cars and worked our way through the shoreline vegetation and caught with a couple buckets of clams.  As we walked to our vehicles one of them dropped his bucket and ran through a fence and into a small oil terminal.  He jumped from the dock into the bay and swam across the bay--fully clothed!  We did the paperwork on the ones we had and then went after our swimmer.  We'd seen where he'd exited the water and followed wet footprints to the home of guy we'd caught only a few nights earlier.  We called for NYPD for some backup, went into the house and found him hiding under a couch.  He went into the system at Central Booking in Queens.

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