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Apr 18, 2015 12:59 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Charges Dismissed Against Hampton Bays Fisherman

Apr 21, 2015 4:21 PM

A Southampton Town judge on Friday threw out charges of overfishing against Hampton Bays commercial fisherman Bill Reed because neither prosecutors nor the State Department of Environmental Conservation officers who charged him could point to a statute regulating the reporting of fish intended to be sold in other states.

Southampton Town Justice Barbara Wilson dismissed the charges against Mr. Reed after DEC officials acknowledged that a so-called “safe harbor” protocol for allowing commercial fishing boats operating under another state’s fishing rules to land their fish in a New York port if there was a weather or mechanical emergency aboard the vessel is a well-known practice but not an official statute.

The DEC officers had testified at Mr. Reed’s trial on Friday morning that the circumstances leading to Mr. Reed’s January landing of a load of fluke nearly 10 times what was allowed under New York State regulations at the time did not meet the safe harbor policy. But when the officers couldn’t point to a specific law delineating what the protocol was, Mr. Reed’s attorney, Dan Rodgers requested that the charges be dismissed—Judge Wilson obliged.

“They’re requiring this man to follow a law that isn’t even written down, it’s in their heads,” Mr. Rodgers, who has also represented East Hampton baymen Danny and Paul Lester in defense of overfishing charges brought by the DEC, said in a phone interview afterward. “I said to the officer, ‘Could you tell me where this safe harbor protocol is?’ and he said, ‘Everybody just knows … but it’s not written down.’ It was bizarre.”

Mr. Rodgers said the case against Mr. Reed had been just the latest in a long history of unfair and inconsistent enforcement of fisheries laws by the DEC. The attorney and the fishermen he represents have accused the state agency of unwarranted persecution of fishermen, claims that set off an investigation of the department’s practices by the state Inspector General’s office—the findings of which have been long delayed, without explanation by the IG’s office.

The DEC offered no comments on the outcome of Mr. Reed’s case.

Mr. Reed had been charged in January with illegally landing about 625 pounds of fluke when his boat, Providence, returned to Shinnecock Inlet from a fishing trip 50 miles south of Long Island. The fluke landing limit at the time was just 70 pounds per trip for New York State ports.

But the Providence also holds New Jersey commercial fishing permits, where it would have been permitted to land more than 2,000 pounds of fluke from the trip. Mr. Reed has claimed that he had planned to bring the Providence into New Jersey after his holds were full, but worsening weather and poor fishing had spurred him to cut the trip short and to head for the nearest port, which was Shinnecock.

Testifying on Friday, DEC officer Matt Foster said it has long been common practice for state environmental officers to allow boats fishing under another state’s permits to land fish at New York harbors in an emergency without being cited for violating state rules, according to Mr. Rodgers.

But the DEC officers cited him for landing the fish after this particular trip because, the attorney said, they thought he only came back to Shinnecock, which is the boat’s home port, because the fishing was bad, not due to the weather.

Mr. Rodgers said that when he decided to land the fish in Shinnecock, Mr. Reed notified New Jersey fisheries enforcement that he was heading in to a New York port, since he had declared that he was fishing under New Jersey permits when he embarked on the trip. The New Jersey officers notified New York State DEC that the Providence was returning to Shinnecock with a load of fish caught under New Jersey permits.

Mr. Rodgers said on Saturday that Mr. Reed had followed what had been understood to be the protocol for landing fish at an out-of-state port and hadn’t been trying to conceal anything about his trip.

He said the dismissal is a victory for commercial fishermen, more than two dozen of whom from across the East End were in the courtroom on Friday.

“The whole room jumped up and started clapping,” when Judge Wilson issued her ruling, Mr. Rodgers said. “This is an agency that has had a communication problem for decades.”

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A common sense ruling and a good kick to the groin for the overzealous DEC!!!
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Apr 18, 15 5:33 PM
1 member liked this comment
For every fishing job at sea there are eight more back on dry land.
By Duckbornandraised (184), Eastport on Apr 18, 15 5:44 PM
1 member liked this comment
This was a parochial, bush league decision as befits the court and the justice. The law prohibited commercial fishermen from landing more than 70 pounds of fluke at NYS ports. The defendant landed 625 pounds, thus breaking the law.

In the past, the DEC has declined to prosecute fisherman who have violated this law (but who could legally land their catch at a port in another state) if an emergency compelled them to land their catch in NYS.

Wilson, however, chose to dismiss the ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Apr 18, 15 6:23 PM
1 member liked this comment
I think you're barking up the wrong mast here, Mr. Hat. After reading a couple of reports, I get the impression the Judge was looking to see if there were any restrictions to the safe harbor provisions that may have limited Mr. Reed's invocation of that exclusion.

On finding out there was no written policy at all, in spite of all parties concurring that safe harbor is a legitimate part of the law, her hands were tied as far as allowing any prosecution to continue.

Should this ...more
By VOS (1241), WHB on Apr 18, 15 10:45 PM
New York State should change the law and allow our Harding working fisherman attempting to make an honest living by increasing the amount of poundage for our fisherman. It's a shame our local poeple have to obtain a fishing permit from New Jersey.
By Jimion (129), Hampton Bays on Apr 18, 15 7:30 PM
2 members liked this comment
Let's get something straight. Being able to make a living off of a public resource is a privilege and not a god given right. There are limits put in place to protect the resource, the public, and the commercial fisherman as well. Unlike farmers, commercial fisherman do not own the land, do not tend their crops, and do not replenish after harvest. Nobody is forced into this business. I'll say it again, you have chosen a profession that takes its bounty from public resource.
By ArturoBandini (30), on Apr 20, 15 11:57 AM
HHS - Not bush league at all. If the DEC couldn't point to a specific statute then Judge Wilson is correct in tossing the charges. The DEC cannot make up things as they go along.
By dnice (2346), Hampton Bays on Apr 18, 15 10:13 PM
1 member liked this comment
There are just to many layers of government and the DEC need a purging. They continuously hold building permits, dredging, then hassle hard working fisherman.
By North Sea Citizen (568), North Sea on Apr 19, 15 7:13 AM
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to VOS & dnice:

The “safe harbor protocol” is an expression of the “act of god” legal doctrine, which exempts a party from its obligation to comply with an agreement based on the interposition of an unforeseeable natural disaster. This well-established principle requires an offer of proof by the party claiming its operation.

Judge Wilson's decision PRESUMES the existence of that proof, without any effort on the part of the perpetrator, because the parameters ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Apr 19, 15 9:21 AM
HHS, you are making some assumptions based on no evidence. I don't care what they(DEC) "thought". I care what they can prove. Laws and procedure are set up to protect the innocent. If a few liars take advantage and get off so be it. We cannot allow authority unfettered ability to charge us without proof.
By dnice (2346), Hampton Bays on Apr 19, 15 6:29 PM
Now you're getting carried away and overcomplicating things in your imaginary tales of imaginary beings. Perhaps it was caused by a giant wolf blowing the North wind away.

It's obvious to me the safe harbor provision is in place and has been recognized because it is more important to the captain and crew to be able to land their boat, and catch, where it is safe to do so and have the arbitrary geographic restrictions for doing so waived. The cause of the weather disturbance is moot.

By VOS (1241), WHB on Apr 19, 15 9:14 PM
HH your ignorance is only surpassed by your arrogance. Commercial fishing vessels holding permits in multiple states is common practice. The trip in question was interrupted by significantly higher winds and seas than forecast, Capt. Reed had 2 options, the first steaming more than 60 miles into the weather to NJ to land his catch putting his crew and vessel in extreme danger or coming back to Shinnecock, a shorter and safer trip. He did nothing wrong and called in his intentions to NJ, and additionally ...more
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Apr 19, 15 5:19 PM
to bigfresh:

Once again, you post a fatuous inanity that entirely misses the point.

Whether Capt. Reed had just cause to land his catch at Hampton Bays is entirely irrelevant. Judge Wilson's decision is that the DEC cannot challenge his invocation of the safe harbor protocol because that term is undefined in statute. If his ship sailed under clear skies, calm seas, and a gentle, following wind, he could still claim the exemption of the doctrine because Judge Wilson has declared ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Apr 19, 15 5:59 PM
Actually while Captain Reed cannot be denied safe harbor there is nothing in the doctrine requiring he be allowed to unload his illegal catch. The work around to the judge's ignorant ruling would be for the DEC to simply require the cargo remain on board till the weather clears and then the vessels can continue on to the appropriate port. And how did this end up in the local Mickey Mouse court anyway? If these were state charges why wasn't this in a real court with a real judge?
By bird (829), Southampton on Apr 19, 15 7:13 PM
Any offense less than a felony committed in southampton town is prosecuted in town justice court (nys penal law, environmental conservation law, vehicle and traffic law, town code, etc...)
By HB90 (164), southampton on Apr 19, 15 9:14 PM
Thank you for the explanation.
By bird (829), Southampton on Apr 20, 15 7:59 AM
The whole debacle is just another blatant over reach by the DEC. HH do you know that the DEC can search your property without a warrant? They need to be thwarted at every opportunity.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Apr 20, 15 7:11 AM
What a fluke!
By Mouthampton (439), Southampton on Apr 20, 15 9:03 AM
1 member liked this comment
to bigfresh:

I am not defending the behavior of the DEC. My criticism is exclusively of Judge Wilson's ridiculous decision.

Why on earth did the judge not allow the trial to proceed, hear the defensive evidence of an enabling emergency, and rule on the basis of reason and precedent?
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Apr 20, 15 9:24 AM
1 member liked this comment
I say let the commercial fisherman take as much as they want. Fishing is a tradition on Long Island. Who cares how many species go extinct due to overfishing. Its every Long Islander's right to fish until there are no fish left. what is wrong with you people???
I am sick and tired of you crazy environmentalists looking 10 years into the future! There are fish here now! Let's catch as many as we can while we still can! When the fish are gone fisherman can become squirrel hunters. Problem ...more
By Arnold Timer (327), Sag Harbor on Apr 21, 15 6:55 PM
I couldn't disagree more. We should make fishing totally illegal for everyone always. If a person so much as hooks another fish that should be an instant mandatory sentence of at least 500 years. We should completely remove commercial fishing from our waters and force every boat owner to impound their ships to the state with no compensation. If the boat owners don't comply? Death by firing squad.
I am sick and tired of these crazy fishermen trying to make a living for their family! The fish ...more
By Inch_High_PI (29), Southampton on Apr 22, 15 12:44 PM
1 member liked this comment
People do realize that in nys the rec quota is bigger then the comm quota. For example in nys out of a 100 percent stripe bass quota 89 percent goes to rec and charter fisherman and 11 percent goes to comm. Look it up!
By jack1979 (15), east hampton on Apr 22, 15 5:18 AM
Waaaay off base Arnold, you need to do some research before you are able to intelligently comment on this subject.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Apr 22, 15 6:44 AM