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Mar 9, 2010 4:22 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Supporters gather for brothers facing fishing charges

Mar 9, 2010 4:22 PM

Thursday was a gray day for the crowd of baymen and friends of Daniel and Paul Lester, who gathered behind the East Hampton Town Justice Court to support the two fishermen who had been charged by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation with selling fish without permits and out of season.

The brothers, who appeared for arraignment Thursday morning before Town Justice Lisa Rana, both pleaded not guilty. Daniel Lester, who is an East Hampton Town Harbormaster, faces three felony and five misdemeanor charges, while Paul Lester faces six felony and two misdemeanor charges related to the sale of porgies and summer flounder, according to DEC representative Aphrodite Montalvo. Both were released on their own recognizance and are due to return to court on April 1.

Outside the courtroom, after the brothers were released, the crowd of more than 50 supporters filed from the packed aisles of the courtroom and stood in silence as the Reverend Steven E. Howarth, the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Amagansett, said a prayer for the fishing families of East Hampton.

“Let us give thanks to the Lord for having blessed us with the teeming life beneath the sea,” he intoned. “Thank you for the gifts of fishing you have given to Dan and Paul.”

Pastor Howarth said that both brothers and their families have been reliable members of his congregation for years. He said that he got to know Daniel Lester when he volunteered for the Amagansett Fire Department while Mr. Lester was the fire chief.

“I know him as just a solid, solid fellow,” he said. “Generations of his family have persevered in the face of incredible pressure.”

The brothers’ attorney, Daniel Rodgers of Riverhead, told the crowd that “there has been a long history in East Hampton of the DEC harassing, browbeating and intimidating local fishermen. That is going to end.”

Mr. Rodgers said that when the case goes to trial, he will argue three positions: that the incidents leading to the charges did not happen in the manner suggested by the DEC; that the DEC relies on “faulty and outdated scientific data to justify their regulatory taking of an industry;” and that the DEC does not have jurisdiction in waters overseen by the East Hampton Town Trustees.

“Simply stated, ‘fowling and fishing shall be free,’” he said, quoting the Dongan Patent, a 1686 colonial-era document that granted settlers the right to the use of the East End’s natural resources.

“The DEC might not like the Dongan Patent, but it’s the law,” he said. Mr. Rodgers added that both brothers intend to continue to fight the charges and he believes the case will go to trial.

Neither of the brothers spoke at the press conference or to the press afterward. They referred comment to Mr. Rodgers.

Also on the docket Thursday morning was David Aripotch, a trawler from Montauk who had also been charged by the DEC on November 5 for bringing 93 striped bass over the limit to the dock, when commercial fishermen are allowed to bring in just 21 striped bass, which must be tagged, per day.

Mr. Aripotch, who did not speak to the press, is facing a charge of “felony commercialization,” according to DEC representative Aphrodite Montalvo, who said that the charge carries a maximum penalty of $23,600. He pleaded not guilty.

Stuart Vorpahl, a former bayman, was shaking his head as he watched the proceedings.

“Sometimes you go for a tow and 300 striped bass end up in your net. What are you going to do, throw them back?” he asked. “Any commercial fisherman gets 220 tags for the season. They may have 220 tags sitting in the wheelhouse of their boat, but they can’t use them.”

He said that the practice of forcing fishermen to throw back dead fish, which he called “kill and release” was an absurd management tactic and he accused the DEC of “political genocide” of the fishermen’s way of life, which he said was steeped in the idea of conservation.

“When I was a boy, the job of us kids on the beach when the haul seines came in was to measure the striped bass and throw back the ones that were too small,” he said. “Our fathers told us ‘those are the fish we’re going to catch next year.’”

Mr. Rodgers told reporters after the press conference that the brothers would entertain a plea offer if one was presented by the DEC.
“We’re not looking to create law here,” he said.

The felony charges against the brothers carry a penalty of $10,000 and/or more than one year in prison and the misdemeanor counts carry a sentence of $5,000 or one year in prison. The felony counts arise from the sale of more than $1,500 worth of fish per incident.

The DEC investigation into the brothers’ fishing practices, which has reached back as far as 2007, began after Daniel Lester pled guilty to fishing commerically without a permit after DEC investigators caught him taking summer flounder from pound traps that he’d placed just north of Hither Hills in Gardiner’s Bay.

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Good for Mr. Rodgers, the statement sounds good to me. The Lester Family knows more about the E L I waters than any bureaucrat. I treasure and respect any man that goes out in all kinds of weather to bring in the fish fruits of the sea.
By summertime (589), summerfield fl on Mar 4, 10 5:34 PM
I'm not taking sides here, but there's a certain irony in the attorney preparing to argue that, essentially, NY state law doesn't (or shouldn't) apply to his clients, one of whom is a peace officer who swore an oath to uphold those very laws.
By zaz (197), East Hampton on Mar 4, 10 5:36 PM
3 members liked this comment
There are certain things a police officer is not allowed to do when trying to make an arrest, one of these things is called entrapment. The law allows these men to fish but if they catch too many they must shovel overboard or release mostly dead fish worth thousands of dollars. I'm not a lawyer but this sounds like entrapment to me.
By montaukman (98), easthampton on Mar 4, 10 7:39 PM
Unfortunately for the Lesters, the waters that provide the catch they are accused of poaching are not regulated by the Trustees, unless they were caught inside the town harbors or creeks. I find this unlikely. Also, Officer Lester's
professional rep among the locals may to work to his advantage. This is not a political issue and the Reverend may want to consider what he is injecting himself into.
Mar 5, 10 8:37 AM appended by phins
Unfortunately for the Lesters, the waters that provide the catch they are accused of poaching are not regulated by the Trustees, unless they were caught inside the town harbors or creeks. I find this unlikely. Also, Officer Lester's professional rep among the locals may not work to his advantage. This is not a political issue and the Reverend may want to consider what he is injecting himself into.
By phins (43), East Hampton on Mar 5, 10 8:37 AM
i have read the Dongan Patent and no where can i find that it covers migratory species that venture thru our waters. it covers land, access to the water, etc. Am i wrong? If so, please point it out. Does not seem like an adequate defense to me. So by the attorney's logic any resident does not have to abide by ny state or federal regs? So i can keep as many short bass as i want? Ridiculous!

The regs are in place to protect fish stocks for all of us. Not just a select few....

By fishy (92), East Hampton on Mar 5, 10 9:25 AM
Also, i would like to add that there are many other factors hurting the commercial fishing industry. The economy's impact on demand, ever increasing operating expenses (fuel, dock fees, etc), cheap farm raised imports, and TAXES!

Interesting article on cnn.com the other day regarding lobster fishermen in Maine. Harvests have increased but demand is way off due to lack of demand due to the bad economy and prices are lower than they have been in years. yet costs continue to increase.

what ...more
By fishy (92), East Hampton on Mar 5, 10 9:37 AM
A commercial boat from montauk this past week needed 1000 l.b.s. more scup for their trip limit, when they hauled back they caught 30,000 l.b.s. so 29,000 l.b.s. were discarded DEAD. Who or what fish stock does that reg protect????
By montaukman (98), easthampton on Mar 5, 10 12:25 PM
so knowing they only needed 1000 lbs to meet the quota there is nothing different they could have done?
By fishy (92), East Hampton on Mar 5, 10 12:46 PM
By ELECTRICUTIONER (65), east islip/montauk on Mar 5, 10 12:57 PM
1 member liked this comment
Once again, we see how far our nation has fallen from it's orginal founding liberties. Our goverments on both the state and federal level continue to strangle the people of this nation. I pray that these two innocent men are freed of these charges.
By reality 101 (137), East Hampton on Mar 5, 10 1:11 PM
so the draggers should be allowed to clear out the oceans so no one else can catch fish? what about other citizen's rights? you are kidding, right?

keep shooting those buffalo....
By fishy (92), East Hampton on Mar 5, 10 3:06 PM
The fish population has gone up and down for decades regardless of what restrictions are put in place by bureaucrat liberals looking to please a few vacationing sport fishermen.
Are you so niave to think that a handful of draggers and haulseiners can "clean out our oceans? Ridiculous!
This is the problem with our town and society. The Green movement comes in and uses what has been admitted as faulty data at best to kill an important cultural aspect of our Towns (not to mention a way of ...more
By YEAROUNDER (81), East Hampton on Mar 5, 10 4:39 PM
yeah, just like the striped bass population in the 80's and early 90's. i could go on but clearly you have no idea what you are talking about. And by the way i am about as far from a liberal as you can get. answer this, what brings more money into the local economy commercial fishing or recreational/sport fishing?

Just ask any one of the local captains what they think...
By fishy (92), East Hampton on Mar 5, 10 4:58 PM
Unfortunately the law does not allow for any over catch so anything over the limit must be thrown back and these fish are mostly dead. This is a result of the govt trying to regulate an industry it knows very little about.And yes recreational fishing adds more to the economy but not only is the commertial industry industry helping to feed the country but it is also a multi billion dollar industry that should not be outsourced.
By montaukman (98), easthampton on Mar 6, 10 6:30 AM
So knowing they only needed 1,000 lbs. for the quota they could'nt have done something different? Maybe I am going to open a can of worms but it is incidents like this that attract regulation
By Ebby (75), Sag Harbor on Mar 6, 10 4:48 PM
1 member liked this comment
If they were 100 lbs. short of their limit would they have done the same thing? UnF'in believable! You guys deserve all the regulations the government can lay on you. You're your own worst enemies.
By phins (43), East Hampton on Mar 6, 10 7:09 PM
You need to understand a 1000 lbs may be worth up to $2500 or more multiply that by 50 trips and it may well be that years profit, also when a net is set even for a short period of time it is extremely difficult to know how much you are or are not going to catch.This is why these guys want flexability in the regs not the elimination of them. Remember phins fishing is not just the use of a resourse but also a business and should not be outsourced because if it is the Japanese,Chinese,Russians and ...more
By montaukman (98), easthampton on Mar 7, 10 11:59 AM
How about this concept, and I may be foolish for suggesting it, but knowing the incredible waste that may result in a that extra drag in order to meet your limit: DON'T DO IT! They just threw away 29,000 lbs. of fish that could have gone into their pocket next trip. At what point does personal responsibility come into play?
By Bayman1 (297), Sag Harbor on Mar 9, 10 11:42 AM
How about they keep ahd sell that 29000 lbs and subtract it from their possible quota for that opening of that particular season. No waste no more discarded bycatch less fuel burned. That might be considered flexable management, conservation, and would consider the economic realities of the industry.
By montaukman (98), easthampton on Mar 9, 10 12:34 PM
That is a great option, and one that I have heard before. BUT, that ain't the way the rules are written right now. Therefore, we need to adapt!
By Bayman1 (297), Sag Harbor on Mar 9, 10 3:43 PM
the only one that is going to win here is the lawyer.

By fishy (92), East Hampton on Mar 9, 10 3:27 PM