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What is that? Sunday, May 28, 2023

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Rich Surozenski was the first to identify the menhaden kettle (see below) that proudly sits in Dering Harbor. A former Dering Harbor Highway Superintendent, Rich said, “I should know it. I worked there for 38 years.” Roger McKeon was right behind him via email, followed by Karen Brush.

(Credit: Ambrose Clancy)

Nearby where the kettle sits, is what was once called Factory Road, which ended at an industrial site — the Menhaden Fish Factories — that sustained the economic health of Shelter Island in the 19th century.

Menhaden, or bunker, are tiny, oily fish that were cooked down in large cauldrons and used for fuel, fertilizer, nail polish, paint and for tarring nets.

Bunker, according to our fishing columnist Larry Winston, run “in schools ranging in size from a bathtub to several acres … using lots of oxygen from the water while at the same time excreting nitrogen from their food intake. Because of this, they’re vulnerable to suffocating if they get into a slow-running, low-oxygen estuary situation, as they did in the Riverhead area in the spring of 2015, when thousands of the larger bunker died and fouled the waters for weeks.”

And our late Senior Columnist Richard Lomuscio added some history: “The big industry here in the 19th century was bunker fishing. They were netted by the bunker boats and brought to shore where they were boiled down in ‘bunker pots’ that dotted the beaches all over the Island.

“And did they stink! The summer air was filled with the stench of boiling bunker. Not a pleasant scent for visitors looking to escape the foul air of the city. So, the town fathers made the decision to stress the resort nature and stop the bunker industry. The Island’s future was finally cemented.”