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Network of companies sue over state’s surf clam restrictions

Rob Hart poses for a portrait at his

Rob Hart poses for a portrait at his family's boat yard, Shellfish Marine in West Sayville, on April 18, 2012. Hart is one of the last remaining independent surf-clam fishermen who operates out of West Sayville. Credit: Newsday File / Charles Eckert

A network of companies with ties to two New Jersey-based brothers in the business of harvesting, processing and selling ocean surf clams has filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Environmental Conservation, charging that state laws intended to preserve the fishery for New York residents have unlawfully affected their business.

The suit, filed March 1 by Maryland-based SeaWatch International and the affiliates, seeks an end to laws that restrict non-New York fishing boats, and those more than 70 feet long, from the state surf clam fishery, which extends to three miles from the Atlantic shore from Rockaway to Shinnecock. The suit also seeks to nullify the expiration of a 2012 law that allowed surf-clam interests to harvest the quota of more than one permit on a single boat.

The DEC in November rejected applications from several companies named in the suit that sought to transfer their surf-clam harvest to New Jersey-based boat owners.

Newsday in 2012 reported that companies with links to New Jersey brothers Leroy and Martin Truex had bought up or controlled most of the 22 state-issued permits to harvest 30 million surf clams annually off Long Island’s shore. Records showed some of the companies donated thousands of dollars to former state Sen. Lee Zeldin, who sponsored the 2012 legislation to allow consolidation of the fishery. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the legislation, which had a “sunset provision” and has since expired.

The suit claims the laws were directed at ending what state officials in documents cited in the lawsuit described as “monopolistic” practices by companies in the industry. The expiration of the 2012 law reverts state policy to one permit per boat.

“The actual purpose behind the Single Permit Rule . . . is to benefit certain ‘independent vessel owners’ at the expense of a ‘certain sector’ of the surf-clam industry — the harvesting companies, vessel-owning companies and shipping companies who are plaintiffs [in the lawsuit and] who have corporate and/or ownership affiliations with the out-of-state plaintiff SeaWatch International, a clearly unconstitutional intent,” the suit says.

Rob Hart, one of the last remaining independent surf-clam fishermen, who operates out of West Sayville, said he disagreed with the intent of the suit and declined to join it.

“The [surf clam] resource is in very bad shape and I think we need more restrictions on the fishery, not less,” he said.

Bellport attorney Lee Snead, who filed the suit and appears in state records variously as an agent and officer of many of the companies, didn’t return a call seeking comment. A DEC spokeswoman said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

In addition to SeaWatch, the suit names the following companies as plaintiffs: Aqua Harvesters, Bay Head Inc., C. Seam Seafood, Doxsee Sea Clam, Edgar Seafood Products, Fernandez & Family Inc., Freeport Sea Clam, Lady Kim Inc., Lyons Fisheries Inc., Off Shore Diving, PEK Clam Co., SMJ Products, St. Peter Dock, Verbeke and Winter Harbor Brands. Holding companies, some naming the Truexes as officers, control many of those formerly Long Island-family owned businesses.

The suit also names New Jersey-based TMT Vessels and LET Vessels, the companies whose applications to transfer permits to harvest clams were rejected by the DEC. The suit also names Oceanside Packers, the company that crates and ships surf clams; American Pride Seafood, Atlantic Capes Fisheries and Galilean Seafoods.


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