Four fishermen are facing felony charges after they were reportedly caught by the Department of Environmental Conservation illegally spearing 74 striped bass, valued at more than $3,000 over the legal limit.
According to the DEC, the group was caught in the waters off Valiant Rock, in a shallow area east of Gull Island, in late August. Three of them turned themselves in earlier this month and are due back in Southold Town Justice Court, while the fourth is reportedly out of the country and will be charged at a later date.
Christopher R. Miller and Erik A. Oberg, both of Montauk, and Mica Marder, of East Hampton, surrendered to authorities Oct. 4 at New York State Police Headquarters in Riverside, DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said. A warrant was also issued for Peter J. Correale of New Canaan, C.T.
Mr. Miller, Mr. Oberg and Mr. Harder were all charged with taking striped bass worth more than $1,500 in value for commercial purposes with prohibited spears — a Class E felony, Mr. Martens said. Authorities said the group had 926.5 pounds of striped bass in total, valued at $4,632.
They were also charged with two violations of taking the fish out of slot sizes and having untagged fish. Mr. Miller, the fishing ship’s captain, was also charged with unlawful possession of striped bass tags and failing to display a dive flag as required by New York State Navigation Law, Mr. Martens said.
In late August Environmental Conservation Officers were reportedly on a routine patrol from Shinnecock to Fishers Island when they noticed three divers with spear guns in hand boarding a fishing boat called Sea Spearit at Valiant Rock in a shallow area east of Gull Island.
After stepping aboard the vessel, which was operated by Christopher R. Miller of Montauk, the ECOs discovered both tagged striped bass and untagged striped bass in coolers. All the fish had noticeable spear wounds in their gill area, Mr. Martens said.
“Fishing limits were established to maintain a healthy, sustainable striped bass population and violators of this law will be subject to arrest and prosecution,” Mr. Martens said. “When individuals use inappropriate methods to harvest a critical resource like striped bass, they are depleting the fishing stock and penalizing commercial fishermen who play by the rules and harvest fish using appropriate methods.”
According to the DEC, New York State Environmental Conservation Law prohibits taking striped bass for commercial use by spear due to the fact there is a slot size limit that is difficult to determine until the fish are actually in hand. This, the DEC says, is thought to be a much easier way to “secure a fish whose populations have to be managed in order to ensure the continued viability of the fishing stock,” the DEC said.
An arraignment date has been set for Nov. 4 in Southold Town Court for Mr. Miller, Mr. Oberg and Mr. Harder, the DEC said.
On Oct. 2, Mr. Martens said, ECOs also caught Mr. Miller with three speared striped bass hidden in a compartment on his boat off Montauk Point. The total weight of the fish was about 100 pounds and had a value “well over” the $250 threshold, Mr. Martens said — a misdemeanor under the ELC with a minimum penalty of $5,000.
Mr. Miller is scheduled to appear in East Hampton Town Court for the misdemeanor charge Dec. 4, Mr. Martens said.