Commercial fishing advocates Thursday lambasted a new state report that criticizes New York's top fisheries regulator, saying it failed to address fishermen's complaints and took too long to complete.
At a rally beside a commercial fishing trawler in Hampton Bays, two state lawmakers joined several dozen fishermen and fisherwomen and an attorney for fishermen in blasting the report as a "whitewash." They vowed to press for legislation and to take legal action to address their concerns.
The report by the state inspector general, released on Wednesday, said the state Department of Environmental Conservation failed to process years of paperwork that fishermen are required to fill out every time they fish; DEC enforcement officers were improperly directing plea agreements, leading to possible "coercion" of defendants, and that property seized in arrests wasn't returned after fishermen's acquittals.
Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott's office and the DEC said the problems have since been addressed. The DEC said it "cooperated fully with the Inspector General's office and has already made significant changes to its operations."
Addressing the probe's length, the inspector general's office said in a statement that it had "required corrective actions by the DEC to be fully implemented before it [the report] was finalized." The probe resulted in a "complete transformation" of DEC's search and seizure protocols, vessel trip reporting oversight and DEC police roles in plea bargains," the statement said.
Other issues, "clearly remain outside the purview" of the probe and can be addressed "through legislation or the courts."
But Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) noted the probe took 31/2 years to complete. He said he was "extremely disappointed" by the probe and the report, which he said allowed the DEC to "whitewash things" before it was released.
"There's no doubt in my mind somebody didn't want a full investigation here," said Thiele, who, with Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), had called for the probe. Both said they will craft legislation that deals with fishermen's complaints because, "the cosmetic changes being made by the DEC are not enough."
Attorney Daniel Rodgers, director of New York Fish, an advocacy group, said the report "could have been written by the DEC. . . . The Inspector General has issued a report that is not worth the paper it's written on. It's a total waste of taxpayer dollars."