About 100 Long Island fishermen and women packed a Hampton Bays dock Monday to support a man they say was charged wrongly with overfishing, as his lawyer criticized a "dysfunctional" state enforcement agency.
Standing beside the commercial fishing boat Providence, Southampton attorney Daniel Rodgers called on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to disband the Department of Environmental Conservation's marine enforcement division and for DEC Commissioner Joe Martens to step down.
"The governor has failed us. . . . Certainly, the DEC commissioner has failed," Rodgers said. "We're asking the governor to get off the bench, step up to the plate and show real leadership in the fishing industry."
Rodgers' comments followed a DEC enforcement action last week against Hampton Bays fisherman Bill Reed, who was charged with overfishing when he returned to New York with 700 pounds of fluke. Reed said he encountered bad weather during a Jan. 6 fluke fishing trip 50 miles from Long Island and made a decision to return home.
Though based in New York, Reed has a New Jersey fluke license, requiring that his catch be landed and processed in that state. But doing so would have required steaming 17 hours to New Jersey in high winds and icy conditions, he said.
Reed faces fines and jail time for the charge of having 630 pounds beyond the state limit. He will plead not guilty, Rodgers said.
Rodgers noted that it has been nearly three years since state Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott launched a probe of the DEC's enforcement division, but Leahy Scott has yet to release a report previously described as "imminent."
In a statement, the DEC said the state's "efforts on behalf of the commercial fishing industry in New York speak volumes. No administration [has] been more aware and focused on the changing climate and its effects on New York's ocean resources."
Anthony DiLernia, Cuomo's appointee to the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, a federal fisheries agency, said the DEC's actions won't sit well with the governor.
"This is wrong," DiLernia said about the charges against Reed. "Somebody at the DEC is going to have to explain to the governor why they did this."
Moreover, DiLernia said he has been working with other states on the council to overturn the rules that force New Yorkers with out-of-state permits to steam to distant ports to land their fish. "What Billy did, hopefully in the future will be totally legal," he said.
Fishermen and women who rallied in support of Reed said the state makes it difficult for them to make a living.
"New York doesn't want commercial fishermen," said Mark Lofstadof East Quogue. "This used to be a viable fishery. Now we're just surviving."
Those at the rally also said DEC enforcement officers operate with the presumption of guilt in dealings with commercial fishermen. "When they come down, they make everybody feel like criminals," said Mike Mason, who keeps a commercial trawler at the Shinnecock Commercial Dock.