Four fishermen, including a captain who works out of West Lake Marina in Montauk and two other local men, are facing felony charges for illegally spearfishing striped bass. The incident occurred in late August, according to a statement released on Tuesday by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
While officers for the department were patrolling the waters off Valiant Rock in Block Island Sound, “they observed three divers with spearguns in hand boarding the fishing vessel Sea Spearit at Valiant Rock in a shallow area east of Gull Island,” says the statement.
D.E.C. officers boarded the boat and reported finding both tagged and untagged bass in coolers onboard. The tags, which are placed on fish to be sold at market, belonged to both Christopher R. Miller, the Sea Spearit’s captain, and his sister, Tanya J. Miller, who was not on board, according to the officers.
Commercial spearfishing is currently illegal in New York State. “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,” says the D.E.C. statement.
Mr. Miller denied all charges against him yesterday, but said his attorney had advised him not to discuss the matter in detail. At the end of the day, he said, he would be vindicated.
Also charged were Erik A. Oberg of Montauk and Mica Marder of East Hampton. The three men will be arraigned in Southold Town Court on Nov. 4. The fourth, Peter J. Correale of New Canaan, Conn., is out of the country and will be formally charged upon his return.
The Sea Spearit was ordered back to Montauk, where the fish were seized. The D.E.C. valued the catch, more than 70 fish that were weighed in at the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s office at 926.5 pounds, at $4,632. The charge becomes a felony when the value is over $1,500.
Mr. Miller was also charged for unlawful possession of striped bass tags and failure to display a dive flag, violations.
This month, said the D.E.C., he was “caught off Montauk Point on Oct. 2 with three speared striped bass hidden in a compartment on his boat,” and charged with a misdemeanor, which carries a minimum penalty of $5,000. He will be arraigned on that charge in East Hampton Town Court on Dec. 4.
In Albany, meanwhile, a law is pending to legalize spearfishing for commercial purposes.