DEC: Spearfishing captain pleads guilty; will pay $15,000 fine

06/09/2014 10:00 AM |
RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Attorney Joseph Giannini, far left, talks with his client, Erik A. Oberg, front, and Christopher Miller, back, after appearing in Southold Town Justice Court Friday morning. Mr. Oberg and Mr. Miller are two of the three fishermen facing felony charges for illegally spearing striped bass worth more than three times the legal limit.

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Attorney Joseph Giannini, far left, speaks with his client, Erik Oberg, front, and Christopher Miller, rear, after appearing in Southold Town Justice Court last fall.

A commercial fishing boat captain caught illegally spearfishing east of Little Gull Island last summer pleaded down to a misdemeanor charge recently, while agreeing to pay $15,000 in fines after spearing over 900 pounds of bass, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Environmental Conservation Officers were patrolling the waters from Shinnecock to Fishers Island last August when they spotted three divers with spear guns boarding a boat at Valiant Rock. Officials said Captain Christopher Miller’s vessel Sea Spearit had both tagged and untagged striped bass in coolers.

DEC officers seized the fish and found the group had illegally speared over $4,600 worth of fish.

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Mr. Miller — originally charged with a felony for taking over $1,500 worth of fish illegally — pleaded guilty to illegal commercialization of fish, shellfish, crustaceans and wildlife, a misdemeanor. In addition to paying a fine, he has to complete 210 hours of community service in lieu of 45 days of incarceration.

Three others caught fishing were charged, two of whom have already pleaded guilty.

Erik Oberg of Montauk and Mica Marder of East Hampton both copped to violations of the Environmental Conservation Law for illegal commercialization of fish.

They were each ordered to complete 140 hours of community service and pay a fine no higher than $500.

All three originally pleaded not guilty at a court hearing in Southold Town Justice Court last November.

A fourth fishermen allegedly involved in the incident, Peter Correale of New Canaan, Conn, has reportedly remained out of the country since the incident and will be charged at a later date.

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.

“New York State’s proud fishing tradition goes back hundreds of years,” said DEC regional director Peter Scully. “It is regrettable when a few bad actors tarnish the reputation of a sound and admirable profession. We are very fortunate to have a police force which works tirelessly to prevent these individuals from taking advantage of our natural resources and ensure they are prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Mr. Miller of Montauk, Mr. Oberg and Mr. Marder all originally surrendered to authorities Oct. 4, 2013 at New York State Police Headquarters in Riverside.

jpinciaro@timesreview.com