A Talk With Living Breakwaters Citizen Advisory Member John Malizia

 
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John Malizia, also known as “Johnny Shorts” for his favored, all-seasons attire, is a long-time advocate in local South Shore Republican politics for the protection of the marine environment. Malizia grew up in Italian Harlem on Pleasant Avenue, a block from Patsy’s and three blocks from Rao’s restaurant. It was on visits to his uncle on the Jersey Shore that he developed a passion for recreational fishing off the Keansburg pier.  

Malizia has lived on Staten Island since 1969 and on the South Shore since 1986. His organizational memberships reflect his life-long passion for all things marine. He is past president of the Staten Island Chapter of The Fishermen’s Conservation Association, and a life member of the Staten Island Tuna Club and Staten Island Yacht Club.   He now splits his time between Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida, and his home in Great Kills a few blocks from the Great Kills Yacht Club, where he enjoys a membership and docks his boat. 

Malizia was selected to be a member of the Living Breakwaters Citizens Advisory Committee. He and his fellow recreational fishermen have supported the project “from day one," he says.   

He's a supporter also of New York City’s Billion Oyster Project, a citizen science program spearheaded by the New York Harbor School, a public high school on Governor’s Island. As part of the project students of the school, and other volunteers and students of other New York City schools, have been planting oysters throughout New York City’s waterways.  Oysters will also be cultivated on the concrete breakwaters in Tottenville as part of this initiative.

“The Harbor School is one of the leaders,” Malizia explains. “They pick up thousands of oyster shells from restaurants and bring them to Staten Island. The shells become a habitat for the larvae that the Harbor School plants. Hopefully it takes effect and as a result we get more fish in the Bay.” 

“The oysters they are going to plant on the breakwaters will create a habitat for the fish,” he explains. “That is what we are hoping for. Maybe they will not completely clean the water in my lifetime but they will filter it. They are great filterers and will make a recreational environment that all of us can enjoy.”

alizia would love to see more schools like the Harbor School established for students who want a vocation rather than a desk job. “You need people to do other jobs,” he maintains. “We need workers to make sure our houses are in good shape and to take care of the land. Not everyone is made for the office.”

 
 Malizia loves to participate in events that expose kids to the joys of fishing. He notes that Joseph Borelli, Republican City Councilman for the 51st district, often co-sponsors these outings with the Tuna Club. “I remember a kid who didn’t want to touch the fish in the morning but by the end of the day I got him kissing them, hooking the bait and catching the most fish,” Mazilia reports. “He was smiling from ear to ear. Forget about it. Hopefully after that event he liked to go fishing and kept out of trouble.”

Malizia loves to participate in events that expose kids to the joys of fishing. He notes that Joseph Borelli, Republican City Councilman for the 51st district, often co-sponsors these outings with the Tuna Club. “I remember a kid who didn’t want to touch the fish in the morning but by the end of the day I got him kissing them, hooking the bait and catching the most fish,” Mazilia reports. “He was smiling from ear to ear. Forget about it. Hopefully after that event he liked to go fishing and kept out of trouble.”

 

Mission-driven to Protect Striped Bass

We talked with Malizia about the good work started by the Staten Island Chapter of the Fisherman’s Conservation Association (FCA).  (The Staten Island Tuna Club has taken over the reins of the local FCA chapter of the FCA, which disbanded two years ago.)  The FCA’s mission is to protect fisheries, promote access, and protect and enhance habitat in the marine environment. 

“The goal of our chapter was to teach kids fishing, promote conservation in the estuary, and hold events,” Malizia explains. “One of our main missions was to try to make striped bass a game fish so that it couldn’t be sold in restaurants and poaching would be reduced.   Poaching is a topic with every recreational fisherman I hang out with at the Tuna Club. We don’t like it at all.”  Malizia says that recreational fisherman and commercial fishermen often don’t see eye to eye. “For one it is a livelihood and for the other it is a satisfaction,” he says. 

The FCA had considerable success in convincing city restaurants not to serve striped bass. Today, Malizia reports, striped bass have made a comeback in the Raritan Bay off Staten Island:  “Two years ago in particular in Tottenville there were hundreds of pods of bass. We had 50 or more boats right off Conference House Park.  We were crazy for striped bass.”

 
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Map from NOAA and Google Earth

Can Clamming Make a Come Back?


Malizia talks regretfully about the demise of clamming on Staten Island’s South Shore.  As recently as the years just prior to Hurricane Sandy in 2012, up to 20 clammers were making a decent living in a good season havesting up to 80,000 bushels of clams off the South Shore in a season.   Clammers worked in partnership with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation:  “The DEC had a boat that went out with the clammers every day and worked closely with them,” he reports. “telling them when to stop working a section and move to another along the shoreline.  They made sure they were getting legal clams, and separating them properly.”  The catch would be transported by truck to Long Island to the Peconic Bay where contaminants were removed, a process called depuration. They were then sold as "Long Island" clams.

Malizia and his friend Tony pose with their striped bass catch.

lthough this added to costs, it was possible for a while to clam quite profitably on the South Shore, and the local industry was attracting a new generation of clammers.  But price pressures thinned the clammers' margins, and when an effort by one veteran clammer to have a depuration facility sited in Princes Bay failed, the death knell was sounded for the South Shore’s clamming industry. 

Malizia says clamming might yet make a come back on the South Shore if a depuration facility were approved by the DEC, or the waters sufficiently purified.  “They are still clamming in Jersey but they have the depuration plant in the Highlands where they can bring them,” he reports. That said, Malizia admits, it takes a special person to take up clamming for a living:  “It is a hard job. You have to be strong and you have to get a person that likes to boat, likes the sun and sea, likes heavy work.  Clams are rough. You are digging to get the shells, and have to bring them up and separate them. You have to be able to enjoy it and there has to be

 
 Malizia and Alex Zablocki, former senior project manager with the Governor's office of storm recovery, pose with a giant oyster, a map of the Living Breakwaters site in the background.

Malizia and Alex Zablocki, former senior project manager with the Governor's office of storm recovery, pose with a giant oyster, a map of the Living Breakwaters site in the background.

 

The Fish of New York City Waters


The New York City waters have changed drastically, but in a good way, Malizia reports, and that has been a big plus for fishermen.  “I have friends fishing regularly the East River, the Hudson River by the Statue of Liberty…striped bass, fluke, porgies, shark, dogfish, skates,” he expounds. “On the South Shore of Staten Island in Princes Bay there are sea robins and blackfish.  Tottenville has a lot of rocks and blackfish love rocks. There you also have the sea bass.”

South Shore fishermen also continue to catch crab and consume their catch, he reports.  While crab fishing is legal on the New York side of the Arthur Kill it is not on the Jersey side.  Dioxin, a byproduct of the pesticide Agent Orange, which was used as a tool of chemical warfare during the Vietnam War, was produced by Diamond Alkali (later known as Diamond Shamrock) at a plant in Newark, NJ, and often dumped into the Passaic River, which flows first into Newark Bay, then the Kill Van Kull, and finally into the Arthur Kill. The clean-up of those toxins continues to this day. Meanwhile, no one to Malizia's knowledge has been poisoned eating crabs caught on the New York side.  "Either we are killing the people in New York," he says, "or the people in Jersey are missing out on their crabs." 

 
 Still Life of Fish in a Harbor Landscape, Jan van Kessel the Elder, 1660

Still Life of Fish in a Harbor Landscape, Jan van Kessel the Elder, 1660