Deck lights from the fishing trawler New Age danced on the black waters of Montauk Inlet as dusk settled on Gosman’s Fish Dock. Crew members in red-rubber overalls and ski caps got to work, hoisting brown cardboard boxes, three at a time, onto wooden pallets inside Gosman’s warehouse — 57 boxes of iced fish, most destined for the New Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx.
The shaky video, shot in December, 2015 by Todd Smith, a special agent of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries division, marked the start of a multiyear investigation that led to the 2021 indictment and trial this month of Montauk commercial fisherman Christopher Winkler, 63.
Using documents from raids, federal fishing reports and subpoenas, Smith alleged the boxes contained, among other things, more than 1,200 pounds fluke. In federal court last week in Central Islip, prosecutor Christopher Hale then stood up a large cardboard poster listing the fishing limits at the time. The commercial fishery for fluke that day was closed, meaning the quota was zero.
Prosecutors allege Winkler took more than $850,000 in illegal fluke and black sea bass during 220 trips between 2014 and 2016, conspiring with a web of contacts, including two members of the Gosman family who, along with others, have pleaded guilty in exchange for their cooperation.
But lawyers for Winkler, who has pleaded not guilty and is among the few New York fishermen and dealers to take his case to trial, have repeatedly sought to poke holes in the government’s case and its witnesses, while contending that the buying and selling of over-the-limit fish in Montauk is widespread.
Winkler’s lawyers have portrayed their client as a hardworking man who represents the smallest fish in the Montauk seafood food chain. At the top of that chain, defense attorney Richard Levitt said during his opening statement, are the Gosmans.
During cross examination last week, Levitt painted the cooperating Gosmans as children of “privilege,” with financial stakes in a seafood and real estate empire valued at over $4 million each, with the businesses listed for sale for $45 million.
Asa and Bryan Gosman said they owned between 9% and 12% of the approximately 12-acre parcel of Montauk at the mouth of the inlet. Both also admitted a legacy of dealing in illicit fish.
“Now, it’s fair to say, isn’t it, that Gosman’s Dock has a long history of buying overharvested fish, right?” Levitt asked Bryan Gosman Thursday, for “years and years and years, right?”
“Yes,” Gosman answered.
Asked why he decided to cooperate against his friend Winkler, Bryan Gosman said he’d given it a “lot of thought and I made my decision that I wanted to get out in front of this.” Dealing in illegal fish, he said, was “a big mistake.”
Gosman said he had “nothing against Chris Winkler,” who faces 20 years in prison. Gosman acknowledged acting as a “lookout” for Winkler to warn him of law enforcement around the dock, including on the 2015 night the first surveillance video was taken. He said the company stopped dealing in overage fluke around 2017.
“After we were, you know, being investigated and the different search warrants, you know, we just told everyone that was, you know, bending the rules, breaking the law, we are not taking anything, just leave us alone,” Gosman said. “And we just made that decision and that's what we stuck to.”
Levitt said the Gosmans over-the-limit fish came not just from Winkler, but a host of Montauk boats and boat captains in a practice to avoid taxes and reporting.
The Gosmans both face up to five years in prison but told the jury that with their full, truthful cooperation, both could get probation and fines of $5,000. Bob Gosman Dock, a company that was indicted as part of the probe and also pleaded guilty, paid a $50,000 fine and is now operating under government monitoring. The company, the primary ice supplier for Montauk fishermen, is barred from dealing with Winkler, who these days must go to Connecticut to get ice to fish.
“We haven’t spoken in a long time,” Asa Gosman testified about Winkler, a former friend who was also filmed that 2015 night helping to unpack the New Age.