Anthony Joseph stands by his commercial fishing boat on Thursday,...

Anthony Joseph stands by his commercial fishing boat on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012 in Point Lookout. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A commercial fisherman from Levittown has been sentenced to 7 months in prison for his role in a scheme to underreport his fishing catch to take some $632,000 in illegal fluke.

At a hearing in U.S. District Court in Central Islip late last month, former commercial fisherman Anthony Joseph, 51, "expressed remorse" before his sentencing, according to his lawyer, Chad Seigel of Manhattan.

"He expressed remorse for his actions and assured the court this was a one-time event, and he has already made reparations for his actions and will keep himself on track," Seigel said.

Joseph pleaded guilty in April 2014 to one count of mail fraud, two counts of wire fraud and one count of falsification of federal records for "knowingly submitting 158 falsified fishing logs" over a three-year period that understated his fluke harvest by 310,000 pounds, starting in 2009.

Joseph, who will surrender to serve his sentence on Feb. 1, also was sentenced to 3 years of supervised release and ordered to pay $603,000 in restitution.

One fishermen's advocate said the sentence was too harsh.

"You are treated more equitably and fairly if you drink and drive on our roads and endanger other citizens than if you violate the fisheries rules and regulations," said attorney Daniel Rodgers, a former Suffolk prosecutor, who is executive director of the group New York Fish of Cutchogue.

"If you violate the fisheries regulations, they [federal prosecutors] crush you, you go to jail, you lose your ability to earn a living," he said. "We've reached a tipping point where people in the fishing community are just absolutely fed up."

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice said the investigation was ongoing. Federal officials have said Joseph previously boasted that a federal fishing program known as research set-aside, in which he participated, was a "license to steal" from the fishery, because it gave fishermen "cover" to fish outside legal limits and seasons.

The U.S. Department of Justice's Environment and Natural Resources Division unit said his actions were "part of a scheme to defraud the United States of overharvested and underreported fluke."

Joseph had been captain of the Stirs One, a commercial trawler operated out of Point Lookout, between 2009 and 2011 when, federal officials, say he took part in the scheme with a local fish dealer, who has also pleaded guilty and received a prison sentence.

Joseph is the third Long Islander to receive prison time as part of the federal investigation that found fishermen and dealers had abused the research set-aside program. Under the program, fishermen buy the right to catch fish beyond their state's quota and often off-season, but some failed to report their catch.

Seigel said Joseph has found a job in maintenance after giving up his fishing career, and hopes to return to that job after serving his sentence. "Obviously it's distressful that he will be away from his family," he said. "He'll pick himself up by the bootstraps."

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