Stuart Vorpahl
Stuart Vorpahl | New York Fish courtesy photo

Stuart Vorpahl was one of the East End’s most vocal advocates for the rights of fishermen, one of East Hampton’s last true Bonackers, who lived his life by the 1686 Dongan Patent up until his final days, and could always be counted on to recount the way things were done in his hometown in times that are rapidly becoming a memory here.

Mr. Vorpahl died Thursday at Southampton Hospital at the age of 76 after a fight with cancer, leaving behind his wife Mary, two daughters, Christine and Susan Vorpahl, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

A wake will be held on Sunday, Jan. 17, from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m., and on Monday, Jan. 18, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Yardley & Pino Funeral Home in East Hampton and the funeral will be held at the Amagansett Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, Jan. 19 at 11 a.m., followed by a reception at the Amagansett Fire Department.

Mr. Vorpahl, who was charged in the mid-1990s with fishing without a state license, mounted an argument that the 1686 Dongan Patent, granted by New York’s then-governor Thomas Dongan, gave him and all other freeholders and inhabitants of East Hampton the permanent right to fishing, hawking, hunting and fowling within the town’s borders, subject only to the regulations imposed by the East Hampton Town Trustees.

East Hampton, Southampton and Southold are the only three remaining towns that have Town Trustees charged with overseeing the common lands and fishing grounds in their towns.

Stuart Vorpahl works his pound traps | file photo
Stuart Vorpahl works his pound traps | file photo

”I abide by the trustees’ permits,” Mr. Vorpahl told The New York Times in 1998. ”The federal and state licenses are out of the loop. As far as I’m concerned they’re Johnny-come-latelys.”

Mr. Vorpahl fought the DEC on the case for more than a decade, and just last fall received a check for $1,000 from the DEC for the value of the 490 pounds fluke they’d confiscated from him back in 1998.

Mr. Vorpahl, who served as the official East Hampton Town Historian, often regaled the town board with stories from his life of fishing the town’s waters, and spoke passionately about a broad range of issues that affected the public’s rights, as recently as a November hearing on the town’s rental registry law.

“Stuart Vorpahl was a fierce defender of the rights and traditions of the common people of our town,” said East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell on Facebook Thursday evening. “He could spin a tale and recite history at will with a good sense of humor while making his point. When he passed away today we lost one of the most important advocates for fishermen and local residents. We will miss you, Stuart.”

“Rest easy Stuart… he was one of a kind, fisherman, writer, protector of ancient rights, storyteller, historian, an important figure in our town,” said former East Hampton Town Councilman Job Potter. “Following winds for you.”

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at

One thought on “A Farewell To Fishermen’s Advocate Stuart Vorpahl

  1. This man has done good over the years. When a people cannot make it’s life fromthe Earth’s Sea, then we may all count our days. This gereration and the next.

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