Three men were pinched on criminal charges of illegally harvesting almost 1,500 horseshoe crabs in one night in Great South Bay -- worth about $4,500 if sold as bait to fishing businesses, state officials said Wednesday.
The spring spawning season, when the crabs come to shore and it's easier to harvest them, has just ended, state Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman Bill Fonda said.
During the spawning season from April to June, the DEC ramps up enforcement of the legal limits since fishermen can fetch up to $3 per crab at fishing companies that use the crab eggs and larvae as bait for eel pots, Fonda said.
"There are times of year where it's appropriate to ramp up our inspection and our patrols because they're more easily harvested in those time frames," he said.
DEC officers were conducting a detail in the bay about 9 p.m. June 2 when they spotted a man piloting an 18-foot skiff into the Swan River with no navigation lights, a news release from the DEC said.
Luigi A. Moscardino, 39, of Patchogue, was arrested after officers stopped his boat and found 333 horseshoe crabs -- well over the legal limit of five crabs for personal use, the DEC said. He's been charged with misdemeanor possession of horseshoe crabs over the limit.
About the same time, the officers used night-vision binoculars to spot another 24-foot boat without navigation lights in the bay.
That boat was found to have 1,107 horseshoe crabs. The men on the boat -- David J. Hartmann Jr., 33, of East Patchogue, and Paul E. Sharkey II, 32, of Patchogue -- were charged with felony possession of horseshoe crabs over the legal limit.
Sharkey was allowed to keep 30 of the crabs because he had a commercial DEC permit to harvest horseshoe crabs, the agency said. Hartmann was allowed to keep five crabs. The other 1,400 crabs were trucked to nearby sites and released back into the Great South Bay, the DEC said.
The men are scheduled to be arraigned July 31 at First District Court in Central Islip. The Suffolk County district attorney's Environmental Crimes Bureau is investigating the case.
Rapid depletion of the horseshoe crab stock endangers the local marine ecosystem, Fonda said. "We do this to catch people who are harvesting a resource in an illegal manner, and to protect the interest of baymen who are following the rules and the quotas," he said. "We're doing this to protect the resources and to protect the baymen."
With William Murphy