Two East Hampton brothers who are fighting felony fishing-related charges returned to court Thursday, surrounded by two dozen supporters and a lawyer who said he is determined to make this a test case against fishing regulations.
The case in East Hampton Town Justice Court charges Daniel and Paul Lester with fishing for more than $1,500 worth of fluke and porgies without permits and out of season. The misdemeanor and felony charges could bring jail time, said their lawyer, Daniel Rodgers, of Riverhead, who said he expects a "long, hard fight."
Town attorneys received an extension in court Thursday to bring the case on April 22.
Regulators and environmentalists say the rules are needed to rebuild depleted fish stocks. Rodgers said most stocks are rebuilt and the quotas need to be updated.
Daniel Lester, 36, an East Hampton bay constable, and Paul Lester, 30, are sons of the late Calvin Lester, a renowned fisherman who fought restrictions on striped bass fishing.
Outside court, Rodgers said he intends to make this a test case to push back against decades of tightening regulations and enforcement that he says are crippling a legendary Long Island industry.
"Their behavior has been criminalized with the actions of the DEC," he said of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which polices fishing and brought the charges. "That has to stop and it will stop."
The DEC has pointed to cases in which it has supported local fishermen in minimizing the impact of federal fishing restrictions.
"We're always looking to make sure people are abiding by the limits that are set," DEC marine enforcement unit captain Dorothy Thumm said last month. "It's a way of protecting other fishermen."
Supporters at the courthouse included fishermen and their families, including two children sporting "Danny Lester" T-shirts.
One notable backer was Stuart Vorpahl, a retired East Hampton fisherman who waged an unsuccessful 12-year battle against the state for his right to fish without licenses.
"The foundation of this whole mess is that our station in life is to provide food for people, and now the government is making criminals of all of us," he said.