A Southampton commercial fisherman charged last week with exceeding state fluke limits by 630 pounds had informed authorities of his need to return to port because of bad weather, and will fight the charges, his lawyer said Wednesday.
Bill Reed, who owns two commercial fishing boats at the Shinnecock Commercial Dock in Hampton Bays, said he encountered bad weather during a Jan. 6 fluke fishing trip 50 miles from Long Island, and made a decision to return home.
Reed, though based in New York, 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.
"For safety reasons, I returned to Shinnecock," he said.
Before landing, he called New Jersey authorities to tell them of his plan to land the fish in New York. Reed had a federal fisheries observer aboard during the trip, he said.
The next morning, three enforcement officers from the state Department of Environmental Conservation charged him with possessing fluke over the legal limit, a charge that could result in fines and jail time, said his lawyer, Daniel Rodgers of Southampton.
Rodgers said Reed will plead not guilty at a scheduled March 4 hearing in Southampton Town Justice Court.
"To require a captain to place his crew and vessel in imminent danger of loss of life and property in order that regulations related to permits be followed is absurd, illogical and pointless," Rodgers said. "It clearly sends the wrong message to boat captains."
DEC spokeswoman Aphrodite Montalvo said in a statement the agency "does not comment on law enforcement proceedings."
New York fishermen are permitted to buy licenses from other states to avoid the restrictive quotas in their home states. New York gets only 7.6 percent of the federal fluke quota, while New Jersey gets more than 16.7 percent. The rules require that fish are landed in a fisherman's licensed state, with certain exceptions, including unsafe conditions, Rodgers said.
Current New Jersey rules allow commercial boats to harvest 5,000 pounds of fluke every other week. New York commercial boats can catch 70 pounds a day.
The New York State Inspector General's office has been investigating DEC fishing enforcement practices for more than two years, after complaints from Long Island fishing interests. A final report, which officials said last year was "imminent," is still pending. State and federal lawmakers, meanwhile, have attempted to increase New York's share of the federal fluke quota, with few tangible results.