Three fishermen who 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, were in Southold Town Justice Court Friday morning to answer to the charges.
Christopher R. Miller and Erik A. Oberg, both of Montauk, and Mica Marder, of East Hampton, have all pleaded not guilty to taking striped bass worth more than $1,500 in value for commercial purposes with prohibited spears — a felony charge.
Mr. Miller, Mr. Oberg and Mr. Marder are due back in court Jan. 10.
“We did not waive any time, so the clock is running against the prosecution,” said Joseph Giannini, the East Hampton attorney representing Mr. Oberg, in an interview with a reporter outside the courtroom.
“I believe them and they’re innocent,” Mr. Giannini said of the fishermen, who were arraigned Nov. 4.
Mr. Miller is being represented by Bellport attorney J. Lee Snead, who did not appear in court Friday. Mr. Marder is being represented by Southampton attorney John O’Brien, who said his client was traveling and could not appear in court Friday. Phone calls made to Mr. Snead and Mr. O’Brien were not immediately returned.
According to the DEC, all four men were caught in the waters off Valiant Rock, in a shallow area east of Gull Island, in late August. Mr. Miller, Mr. Oberg and Mr. Marder all surrendered to authorities Oct. 4 at New York State Police Headquarters in Riverside, DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said last month. A fourth fishermen, Peter J. Correale of New Canaan, C.T., was reportedly out of the country last month and will be charged at a later date, Mr. Martens said.
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. 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.
After stepping aboard the vessel, which was operated by Mr. Miller, 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.
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.