Three East Hampton Men Plead Guilty To Illegal Spearfishing

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Three crew members of the commercial fishing boat Sea Spearit pleaded guilty to charges that they were illegally spearfishing in waters off Valiant Rock in Block Island Sound, according to a press release issued by the State Department of Environmental Conservation on Monday.

The ship’s captain, Christopher Miller, pleaded guilty to the “illegal commercialization of fish, shellfish, crustaceans and wildlife, a class A misdemeanor,” and will be ordered to pay a $15,000 fine in lieu of 45 days in jail, and participate in a total of 210 hours of community service, according to the release.

His crew members, Erik A. Oberg of Montauk and Mica Marder of East Hampton, also pleaded guilty to “violations of the Environmental Conservation Law for illegal commercialization of fish” and must complete “140 hours of community service within one year and pay a fine not to exceed $500.”

A fourth man, Peter J. Correale of New Canaan, Connecticut, is currently out of the country and will be charged at a later date.

The charges stemmed from an incident in late August in which Environmental Conservation Officers say they observed three “divers with spear guns in hand boarding the fishing vessel Sea Spearit at Valiant Rock in a shallow area east of Gull Island.” The ECOs then boarded the ship and found coolers of “tagged and untagged” striped bass. All of the fish, according to the release, had spear wounds in their gill areas.

After taking possession of the fish, the Suffolk County medical examiner’s office determined that the “total unlawfully harvested striped bass weighed 926.5 pounds, valued at $4,632.”

It is against State Environmental Conservation law to take striped bass “for commercial purposes by spear, due to the fact there is a slot size limit that is hard to determine until the fish are actually in hand. In addition, this method is a much easier way to secure a fish whose populations need to be managed to ensure the continued viability of the fishing stock,” said the release.

“New York State’s proud fishing tradition goes back hundreds of years,” said DEC Regional Director Peter A. Scully in the release. “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 was caught with 100 pounds of speared striped bass last October. The fish were hidden in a compartment in his boat, according to the DEC, and was well over the $250 threshold. In 2009, Mr. Miller was also cited for catching 41 black sea bass out of season and possessing eight more blackfish than the limit, four.

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