A Greenport commercial fishing boat captain was charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor charge for illegal commercialization of marine fish after New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Police Officers (ECOs) said he falsified his boat’s trip report records by thousands of pounds for commercially valuable species including scup, summer flounder (fluke) and black sea bass.
“With the recreational and commercial fisherman being under increased pressure to limit their catches due to increasing federal mandates, the falsification of trip report records and taking fish over allowable limit has a devastating impact on our local marine populations and people who depend on viable fishing stocks to make a living,” said DEC Region One Regional Director Peter A. Scully. “ECOs are always on the watch for violators and individuals whom believe they will be able to conduct illegal activities on our waters with no consequences. Our officers will continue to work hard to protect the natural resources and help ensure these resources will be available for generations to come.”
According to Captain Timothy Huss of DEC’s Division of Law Enforcement in Region One, on June 15 two ECOs conducted a compliance check of the fishing vessel Merit which was docked at the Greenport Commercial Fisherman’s Dock.
Upon inspecting the vessel they asked the boat’s captain, Sidney Smith, for vessel trip report records (VTR). An inspection of the hull found it held 7,260 pounds of scup (porgies), 4,050 pound above what was recorded on the VTR, and 1,245 pounds of summer flounder (fluke), 495 pounds above what was recorded on the VTR. In addition, officers found 280 pounds of black sea bass, 230 pounds over the daily 50 pound limit for this species.
According to the officers the commercial value of this underreported haul could have net the fishing boat captain approximately $10,000 if they had been sold at market on the day of the catch.
Smith, 56, of Greenport was charged with two felonies for possessing 1,022 lbs overlimit of fluke, and 6,870 lbs overlimit of scup respectively. Addition-ally, he was found to be 264 lbs overlimit of black sea bass, a misdemeanor under the Environmental Conservation Law (ECL). He was also charged with two violations of the ECL for failing to make prior notification of his landing of his research set aside (RSA) quota of fluke and scup.
DEC officials say Smith is a participant in the Research Set Aside (RSA) program; a cooperative research program set up in 2002 by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and run by NOAA’s Fisheries Service. Under this program, participants (mostly commercial fisherman, but party and charter operations also) are allowed to purchase fisheries quota that has been set aside to help pay for research.
Once the participant has secured this RSA quota, they are allowed, under special permits, to harvest more fish (fluke, scup, black sea bass, bluefish or squid) than they might normally be allowed in a day. Harvesting more fish during a trip increases efficiency and helps make more trips profitable, according to the DEC. There are strict requirements and procedures for participation in the program. Since the DEC says Smith was not following those procedures when he was checked, he was held responsible for normal fishing rules, not RSA rules.