Commercial fisherman faces federal overharvest charges

Central Islip, N.Y. — A Long Island commercial fisherman is facing federal charges in connection with his alleged illegal harvest of over 43 tons of fluke.

Charles Wertz Jr. of East Meadow (Nassau County) has pleaded not guilty to charges of wire fraud and falsification of federal records.

Wertz was charged in U.S. District Court in East Meadow. Prosecutors allege he fished for fluke, also known as summer flounder, illegally from 2009 and 2011 and operated a scheme that led to his overharvesting of more than 86,000 pounds of fluke, valued at about $200,000.

Federal prosecutors, in a 10-page affidavit, allege that Wertz unlawfully harvested fluke by manipulating a program known as research set-asides. That program allows commercial anglers to purchase additional quota space beyond established limits.

Federal regulators use the revenues from set-aside auctions to fund fisheries research.

Wertz’s case was adjourned until later this month when prosecutors indicated a plea agreement may be on the horizon. Wertz, 53, is free on his own recognizance and has declined comment.

Wertz is the son of Charles Wertz Sr., a veteran commercial fisherman from Freeport (Nassau County) who died earlier this year following a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer. During his tenure as president of the West End Fishermen’s Association, the elder Wertz was a vocal critic of federal fishing quotas and fought to change those regulations, which typically give New York commercial anglers a smaller slice of the fluke harvest allotment than anglers from other states along the Atlantic coast.

The case also highlights a deep divide between commercial and recreational anglers regarding harvest allotments, with many sport fishermen contending commercial anglers regularly overharvest their quotes on fluke and other species. That, they claim, impacts the sport fishery and recreational angling opportunities.

“It’s one of the main reasons why recreational size and catch limits are so rigid for the weekend angler,” said one Long Island angler of what he feels is routine overharvesting of fluke and other species by commercial anglers.

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