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E. Hampton fishermen to plead not guilty to violations

Two brothers whose family has a centuries-old connection to fishing on Long Island's East End are expected to plead not guilty to fishing violations this morning, in a case their lawyer said demonstrates regulatory "hounding" of a threatened industry.

Daniel and Paul Lester, of East Hampton, in January were arrested and charged with two felony and five misdemeanor counts each in connection with harvesting of scup and fluke out of season and without permits, respectively, their lawyer, Daniel Rodgers of Riverhead, said. Both will plead not guilty in East Hampton Town Court, said Rodgers, a former East Hampton special prosecutor.

The Lesters' father was Calvin Lester, one of the last haul-seine striped-bass fishermen on Long Island. He died in 2007. The Lesters have been fishing Long Island waters for more than 200 years, and Calvin Lester strenuously fought regulations that wiped out haul-seine fishing from dories off East End beaches.

Rodgers said the Lesters hope to make a statement by challenging the charges against them, which include taking more than $1,500 worth of scup (also known as porgies) and fluke, unlawfully.

"These are not men who are making a great deal of money," Rodgers said. "Clearly, the DEC is hounding an industry into foreclosure."

Daniel Lester is an East Hampton town harbormaster. Rodgers and the Lesters plan to address the media at the courthouse this morning.

Dorothy Thumm, captain of the marine enforcement unit of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which brought the allegations, said felony and misdemeanor counts are determined based on the weight and number of fish, and their value.

"It's not an unusual case," she said. "We have cases all the time of people fishing over the allotment."

She said jail terms were "a possibility," and that the cases usually result in "significant" penalties for those charged.

"It was a situation where the individuals were found to be moving fish they didn't have permits for and overfishing the limits," she said. "We're always looking to make sure people are abiding by the limits that are set. It's a way of protecting other fishermen."

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