DEC finally reimburses Greenport fisherman

Greenport fisherman Sidney Smith recently received a check from the government for more than $8,000 and he plans to cash it and leave town for awhile. But he’s not heading to a casino or Walt Disney World.

“I’m going to buy some fuel and go fishing,” Mr. Smith said.

It’s not a tax refund, it’s reimbursement for the money the State Department of Conservation seized after Mr. Smith sold his catch of scup, fluke and black sea bass in June 2011. At the time he was charged with two felonies for possessing more than 1,000 pounds of fluke over the state limit and scup 5,870 pounds over the limit. He was also hit with a misdemeanor regarding his sea bass catch.

Mr. Smith pleaded guilty to reduced charges in Southold Justice Court, but since the plea bargain did not include his forfeiting the proceeds of his catch, the DEC agreed in September to reimburse him. But he just got the check last week.

“Part of the lame excuse they gave me for not sending the check was my tax number didn’t match my name,” he said. “We discovered that they misspelled “vessel” as “wessel.”

As the captain of the 63-foot trawler Merit, Mr. Smith took part in the Research Set Aside program created by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries service. Participating fishermen can increase their catch limits by obtaining a special permit costing just $10.

His attorney has said the basis of the DEC’s accusation that he violated the program’s procedures, and so standard catch limits apply, was based on his client’s forgetting to send a single email.

The attorney, Dad Rogers of Riverhead, said Mr. Smith had reported his plans to head out into the ocean for several days of fishing, but early on came across a shoal of squid, which he netted and brought in to Shinnecock before heading out again. His returning to sea was considered a new trip, which should have generated a new report.

“That was a very expensive missing email and it sent me out of state,” Mr. Smith said last year. He was stripped of his special permit to fish in New York waters and has since fished out of Newport, R.I. He said he’d like to return to Greenport’s rail road dock as soon as possible.

“It’s home,” he said. “And I already paid the rent.”

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