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Lawmaker to push for fisheries reforms

The introduction of New York fisheries reform legislation, which has been held up pending an inspector general's investigation of state marine enforcement practices, will move ahead this month without findings from the probe, a lawmaker said Monday.

In recent months, state and local officials have been critical of delays in releasing the report by state Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott, who began the investigation into practices of the state Department of Environmental Conservation three years ago. Eight months ago, her office said release of the report was "imminent."

"I'm tired of waiting," said Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), who was among those initially calling for the probe.

Fishermen have told investigators of what they saw as a broad range of alleged improprieties and impediments to fishing by the DEC, according to interviews with Newsday and a source close to the probe. The fishermen have complained about improper seizures of fish without search warrants, restrictions on transferring fishing permits and moratoriums on new licenses.

With or without the inspector general's findings, Thiele said he would introduce this month a three-bill package to address fishermen's grievances.

The first would create a state office to promote and advocate for the fishing industry through a state economic development initiative. The second would create a task force under the DEC "to make recommendations on licensing and [market] entry issues."

Thiele said he also plans to introduce a bill to direct the state attorney general to challenge New York's comparatively low percentages of federal quotas for the region's most abundant fish.

Daniel Rodgers, a Southampton attorney who represents fishermen and women, last month wrote to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo urging action because "many believe that agents of the DEC have been engaging in flagrant violations of the law against Long Island fishermen for decades."

A DEC spokesman declined to comment. The IG's office, in a statement, said its "thorough" probe of allegations led to "review of and remedies" to policies and procedures at the DEC. The DEC cooperated, the IG said. Issues were or will be addressed and outlined in an upcoming report.

In February, two East End supervisors wrote to Leahy Scott saying they understood her probe had been completed, yet her report remained unreleased. They urged her to release it immediately.

"We believe your report is of utmost importance and may help establish a more harmonious, proper and legal working relationship between the fishing industry and those charged with the protection of our resources," Southold Supervisor Scott Russell wrote Feb. 25, noting the report "has been imminent for at least two years." East Hampton Supervisor Larry Cantwell echoed those sentiments.

Some are taking their gripes about the fishery directly to the state legislature.

Steve Witthuhn, a Montauk charter boat captain who cooperated with the IG's investigators about the difficulty in getting state permits for striped bass and fluke, last week traveled to Albany to bring his complaints directly to lawmakers, including Thiele.

"I went one way with the process [to the Inspector General]. It's not working, so I have to go another," he said.


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