Dan Rattiner's Stories

Fish Banned: Robot Fish Company Gets Contract for Off Montauk

The government of Montauk, in a bow to environmentalists, has voted to replace the real fish that swim around that peninsula with artificial ones.

An artificial chain-link barrier will be placed in a great curving arc around the peninsula of that town, one half-mile offshore, and the waters within those bounds will be free of regular fish by April.

In their place will be 1.9 million artificial and re-useable fish to satisfy the enjoyment of surfcasters and inshore fishermen. There will be cod, pollock, blues, porgies, sharks and stripers—the major fish that have brought Montauk fame and fortune in the past.

Local inventor Carl Broward created the first artificial fish out of stainless steel, rubber and plastic, in the basement of his home in Hampton Bays in 2010. (His experience included working on the Stephen Spielberg film Jaws as a shark oiler’s apprentice years ago.) Adding battery power, he got it to wiggle and bite the following year. After that came fundraising and factory building in Bay Shore (you can see the hi-tech Broward Factory from the Sunrise Highway), and his first big sale, a million fish, was made in 2012 to Lake Havasu, Arizona, where they have a manmade lake. His second sale was made to Lake Tahoe County in Nevada.

The town fathers of Montauk got interested in 2013 and the rest is history. With the cost of each artificial fish now under $2, Broward’s production staff of 960 people can produce 22,000 fish a day and, with the go-ahead nod from Montauk officials, will have nearly 2 million artificial fish stocked in the waters off the peninsula of Montauk by May 1. Recently, his engineers fixed a final glitch—getting striped bass to swim in schools—and will have them ready to go by next week with the new software.

“Wasn’t a problem with any other kind of fish,” Broward said.

Supporters of the program won the day after pointing out that this program will help restore the fishing further offshore, be a boon to swimmers and surfers (no sharks) and be good for business. Also, since artificial fish that are caught are thrown back—you can’t eat them, of course—they can fight and lose again and again, and thus are a great boon to recycling and the saving of endangered fish further offshore. The artificial fish are also set up to provide fisherman with an increased fight if a switch is remotely activated. (Bowing to the fears of cardiac physicians, an internal restraint limits all fights to no more than two hours.)

Surfcasters have been strong supporters of the artificial fish program. In the numbers proposed, the time between a cast and a bite will be no greater than three minutes, tops. Currently some surfcasters wait all day and get nothing.

Open and charter boat captains also approve the Broward artificial fish plan. There is no gutting to be done, no cleanup, no mess, and the customers are happy. And they can still go way offshore for the real ones.

A further plus is that the artificial fish are equipped with tiny nose cameras. Switched on, each makes a video of every fight from an underwater perspective. (Each fish comes with a handheld remote.) Surfcasters and boat captains provide emails to the Montauk Chamber of Commerce at the dock before heading out to fish, so videos of the fight can be sent out to family and friends moments after it happens.

A few spoiled sports opposed the program. So did local taxpayers. But they lost the vote.

One last minute fear, though, is that though President Obama has approved the $25 million in federal funding for the program, President-elect Trump might cancel it. Because of that fear—President-elect Trump has vowed to increase spending on defense and infrastructure—the Montauk Chamber has already sent a letter to Mr. Trump informing him of all the plusses—the new assembly line jobs created at Broward Enterprises for microchip and battery installers, the need for truckers, inspectors, marketing people and engineers…it all adds up to more jobs for red-blooded Americans and, with modifications, a new kind of offshore military defense—biting fish—to fend off any invading enemy.

***

As we go to press, we’ve learned that Trump has tweeted a thumbs up. It’s a go.

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