Four fishermen, including two from Montauk and one from East Hampton, are accused of spearing more than 70 fish in Block Island Sound in August.
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens announced on Tuesday that the fishermen have been charged with four felonies related to the illegal spearing of striped bass.
In late August, Environmental Conservation Officers were on a routine patrol from Shinnecock to Fishers Island when they said they saw three divers with spear guns in their hands boarding the fishing vessel Sea Spearit at Valiant Rock in a shallow area East of Gull Island, the DEC said in a statement.
The officers boarded the boat and found tagged striped bass and untagged striped bass in coolers, they said. All of the fish had spear wounds in their gill areas, according to the DEC.
State Environmental Conservation Law prohibits "the taking of striped bass for commercial purposes by spear due to the fact there is a slot size limit that is hard to determine until the fish are actually in hand," the DEC said. It is legal to spear striped bass for recreational purposes with a handheld spear only, according to spokesman Bill Fonda.
“Fishing limits were established to maintain a healthy, sustainable striped bass population and violators of this law will be subject to arrest and prosecution,” Commissioner Martens said. “When individuals use inappropriate methods to harvest a critical resource like striped bass, they are depleting the fishing stock and penalizing commercial fisherman who play by the rules and harvest fish using appropriate methods.”
Officers order the boat back to Montauk and took possession of the fish, bringing them to the Suffolk County Medical Examiner's office for weighing. The total amount of allegedly unlawfully harvested striped bass weighed in at 926.5 pounds, worth $4,632. Felony charges are levied with the value is more than $1,500, according to the DEC.
Some of the tagged fish had tags belonging to Christopher R. Miller, 44, of Montauk, who was operating the boat, and others belonged to his sister, who was not on the boat. Miller has both a commercial fishing and a party/charter license, Fonda said. "However, in both instances he declared he was commercial as evident by the commercial tags on the bass, and the 25 blackfish he had which is the commercial limit," Fonda added.
Miller and two of the other divers, Erik A. Oberg, 66, of Montauk, and Mica Marder, 23, of East Hampton, were charged on Oct. 4, after they surrendered themselves at the State Police headquarters in Riverside. They will be arraignment in Southold Town Court on Nov. 4.
The three men were charged with taking striped bass for commercial purpose with prohibited spears in excess of $1,500 in value, a felony, which carries a penalty of $5,000 or double the amount benefited, and up to four years in prison.
They were also charged with two violations for taking fish out of slot sized and possessing untagged striped bass.
Miller was also charged with a violation for unlawful possession of striped bass tags and failing to display a dive flag as required by the State Navigation Law.
A warrant was issued for Peter J. Correale, 29, of New Canaan, Conn., who is presently out of the country, DEC said.According to the DEC, the reason it took two months to charge the men was partly because they had to determine the weight and market value, and the officers worked in conjunction with the Suffolk County District Attorney's office, which took additional coordination time.
Miller also faces additional charges related to an Oct. 2 incident, the DEC said. Officers reportedly caught him off of Montauk Point with three speared striped bass hidden in a compartment on his boat. The fish weighed approximately 100 pound, well over the $250 threshold to be charged with a misdemeanor under the Environmental Conservation Law, they said. The minimum penalty for that offense is $5,000.
He is due to report to East Hampton Town Court on Dec. 4.
Individuals who observe illegal activities can call the DEC’s Environmental Conservation Officers at (631) 444-0250 during business hours, and1-877-457-5680 or 1-800-TIPP-DEC at all other times to report suspected illegal activities.