Three East Hampton men were arrested and charged with illegally spearing 74 striped bass with a value of approximately $4,632 in waters off Valiant Rock in Block Island Sound in late August, according to a release sent out last week by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Crew members of the commercial fishing boat Sea Spearit, Christopher Miller and Erik Oberg of Montauk and Mica Marder of East Hampton, are facing felony charges because they allegedly speared striped bass for a commercial purpose. State DEC law forbids taking striped bass by spear for commercial purposes because there is a size limit that is difficult to determine until the fish are actually in hand. Spearing is considered a much easier way to secure a fish whose populations has been managed to ensure its viability, according to the DEC. The men were additionally charged with two violations for taking fish out of slot sized and possessing untagged striped bass.
When reached by phone on Monday, Mr. Miller, the ship’s captain, said that he could not comment on the allegations except to say he was innocent. “At the end of the day, I’ll be found not guilty and the DEC is going to lose in court,” he said.
Mr. Oberg and Mr. Marder did not return calls seeking comment.
According to the DEC, environmental conservation officers were on a routine patrol from Shinnecock to Fishers Island when they observed three divers with spear guns in hand boarding the Sea Spearit at Valiant Rock east of Gull Island. Upon boarding the boat, the ECOs found both tagged and untagged striped bass in coolers, some of the tags belonging to Mr. Miller and some belonging to his sister, Tanya J. Miller, who was not on the boat. The officers said the fish had spear wounds evident near their gills.
The DEC said that the officers took the fish to the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s officer for weighing, which determined that the unlawfully harvested striped bass in total weighed 926.5 pounds, valued at $4,632—rendering the charges against them as felonies because the catch exceeded $1,500 in value.
“Fishing limits were established to maintain a healthy, sustainable striped bass population,” DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said in the release. “When individuals use inappropriate methods to harvest a critical resource like striped bass, they are depleting the fishing stock and penalize commercial fishermen who play by the rules and harvest fish using appropriate methods.”
Mr. Miller, Mr. Oberg and Mr. Marder turned themselves in on October 4 at State Police headquarters in Riverside. Their arraignment is set for November 4 in Southold Town Court. A warrant was also issued for Peter J. Correale of Connecticut, who is currently out of the country. He will be charged at a later date.
Mr. Miller was later caught in October with 100 pounds of speared striped bass, which was apparently hidden in a compartment on his boat, according to the DEC. Since his catch was over the $250 threshold, he was charged with a misdemeanor, and faces a minimum penalty of $5,000. He was also charged with a violation for unlawful possession of striped bass tags and for failing to display a dive flag. He is due in court for these charges on December 4 in East Hampton Town Court.