Coney Island’s Endemic Species

You have to be a certain age to remember when Coney Island Whitefish teemed off of Brooklyn’s shores in such massive schools that beach-goers wouldn’t dare go into the water. Today, however, they’re a rare sight.

Although sometimes mistaken for the pallid Manhattan eel  (Mentula brevus), the Coney Island Whitefish is a unique species. Sitts coneius breeds terrestrially, separating from the parent like a shed polyp. The young Whitefish are then dragged into the ocean by the receding tide. In the sea, they’re notoriously sluggish swimmers. In fact, they’re usually washed back ashore, and then sucked back out again. It’s a Sisyphean existence, in and out, in and out with the tide.

Fishermen despair of the limp things. When asked about them, Sheepshead Bay charter boat skippers Sal Ippolito and Tony Quadratti, who between them have three quarters of a century worth of experience, look at each other and shake their heads.

“Hardly ever see those anymore,” says Sal. “Not that I miss ’em. Nobody eats ’em, they’re too rubbery, not even the gulls.”

Tony adds, “And when you do find them now, they’re sometimes green! Sorta, you know, like they’re minty. Never saw that back in the day.”

And yet… what a piece of Brooklyniana is the Coney Island Whitefish! The borough’s mythos resounds with them, slipping through the rotting wooden piers of the first half of the 20th century. Ah, what glories! What memories! They’re as Brooklyn as apple pie is American. After all, who doesn’t remember Brooklyn-born Phil Slivers quipping, in the hilarious This Accountant For Hire, “Even if the whitefish fits, don’t wear it!”, especially after the line was sampled by Brownsville hip-hop duo Smif-n-Wessun?

In honor, then, of the Coney Island Whitefish, lost marker of the glory that was, Borough President* Marty Markowitz will be eating a plate of them today on the Borough Hall steps at noon, followed by a slice of Junior’s Cheesecake.

*The Borough President is our official municipal cheerleader. Formerly hereditary, the position is now underwritten by major developers and Russian oligarch-gangsters.

5 Responses to “Coney Island’s Endemic Species”

  1. 1 mthew April 2, 2011 at 9:28 am

    A comment verbally relayed from Traci: Marty likes smoked Coney Island whitefish, on a bagel.

  2. 2 mthew April 1, 2016 at 7:13 pm

    Reblogged this on Backyard and Beyond and commented:

    And perhaps my finest… what do you think?

  3. 3 crystalhrogers April 2, 2016 at 7:31 am

    Perhaps this is a joke, like Manhattan eel?

  1. 1 Flushed Apps | Backyard and Beyond Trackback on April 1, 2013 at 7:49 am

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