After calling for — and receiving — he has called "unconstitutional" in the past, Riverhead attorney Daniel Rodgers is turning up the heat on the Department of Environmental Conservation, calling now for a state Ethics Commission investigation.
Nearly one year ago, . The DEC officers, who confiscated about $200 worth of fish it claimed was illegally harvested, later sold the fish at a local market, Rodgers has claimed. , and a request for the family's $200 back remains unanswered.
"I was sitting on the couch and they made me get up and they looked under the couch," one 72-year-old fisherman, who was in treatment for cancer, told Newsday.
While an IG investigation was launched in mid-May, Rodgers — representing at least two dozen fishermen and women on the East End — is hoping his latest call for action results in more than a $200 check.
"I'm bringing to bear every single tool I can to bring this office into the 21st century," he said last Friday, one day after he sent a letter to the State Ethics Commission. "I'm not backing off one iota."
According to Rodgers' letter, the practice of selling fish that are confiscated during investigations presents a conflict of interest that should be rectified. The letter states the following:
- "When ECO’s sell their seized fish to a local fish market, they are directly competing with local fishermen and women, the same men and women they regulate and in some cases may have seized the fish from.
- "When they accept money on behalf of the Department of Environmental Conservation for the sale of the seized fish, they are engaging in a commercial transaction with an entity they also must regulate: the local fish market.
- "When ECO’s engage in commercial activities they themselves regulate, for example, the sale of fish, they may be placed in situations in which they may be required to monitor their own or their colleagues compliance with ECL rules and regulations."
Emily DeSantis, the public information director with the DEC, said in a statement, "as we conduct an internal review of our procedures, DEC has suspended the infrequent practice of selling contraband fish.
"DEC remains committed to its mission of protecting our threatened fish stocks. Through fair and consistent enforcement, DEC ensures a level playing field for all law abiding fishermen who make their living at sea. Marine Fishery laws also ensure a sustainable fishery for current commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen and the public for future generations.
"DEC will fully cooperate with any investigation."
As the IG investigation has yet to issue a report, South Fork Assemblyman Fred Thiele, I-Sag Harbor, said he's reluctant to weigh in on an ethics investigation at this point.
"I know this is important to our fishermen and from an overall policy point of view," Thiele said on Monday. "But this is something the Inspector General's Office will probably cover. So I'm just waiting to hear."