New York Cuffs & Collars – April 1st, 2016
ECOs Kevin Holzle and Jordan Doroski, while on patrol in Mattituck, observed four people fishing on the east jetty of Mattituck Creek. After watching them for approximately 15 minutes, and watching one of the party place a very small porgy in his bucket, the officers decided that it was time for a compliance check. After a short drive to the location, the officers had to walk the rest of the way to make contact. While walking up, the officers watched as the fishermen tried to hide their fish in the sand dunes. The officers discovered three different piles of fish in three different locations within the dunes. Ninety fish were located – 89 porgy and one winter flounder. Of the 89 porgy, 83 were under the legal size of 10 inches, and the winter flounder was out of season. All the fishermen were issued summonses for no marine fishing registry and possession of undersize porgy; one fisherman received an additional summons for possession of out of season winter flounder. Officers allowed fishermen to keep the six legal-sized fish and released the rest. “It’s my first time” was the words uttered by the fishermen throughout the encounter, while an unknown driver pulled in. “Justice has been served” could be heard by the officers as the driver spoke to his young son.
(Editor’s note: A criminal charge is merely an allegation that a defendant has committed a violation of the criminal law, and it is not evidence of guilt. All defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial, during which it will be the state of New York’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.)
Ghost pots prevention
ECO Tim Fay was on boat patrol just outside Connetquot River in the Great South Bay when he noticed about 30 buoys that had no markings attached to blue claw crab pots which did not have an escape panel. Fay alerted the other ECOs in the area, asking them to keep a lookout for the crabber tending the gear. If the commercial crabber could not be located in a few days, the ECOs agreed they would remove the gear to abate the nuisance. While pulling the gear, however, they observed that some of the pots did have identifying tags. Fay called the crab permit holder and left a message for the owner to contact him. With Lt. Matt Blaising assisting, the crab pots were impounded as evidence at the Ridge maintenance facility. After the owner of the pots called Fay and admitted that the blue crab pots were his, he was informed that he was in violation of environmental conservation law. Sixty-one ECL citations were filed with First District Court of Suffolk County for numerous violations, primarily for no escape vents and unmarked gear.
Boat operator with an attitude
ECOs Mark Simmons and Tim Fay were on a boat patrol with Capt. Dallas Bengel in the Long Island Sound. As they conducted one navigational and fishing compliance check with their marked 21-foot Boston Whaler patrol vessel with blue lights flashing, another vessel passed at full speed within 50 feet of the two vessels. Simmons was fending off at the bow when the wake from the passing vessel caused him to lose grip of the bow rail and nearly cause damage to the other vessel. The officers gave chase and stopped the reckless vessel. When they asked the operator why he didn’t slow down for a police vessel with blue lights flashing alongside another vessel, he replied “You were in the way, in the channel.” The officers conducted a routine compliance check and found a striped bass that measured 26 inches – two inches under the legal size limit. Fay asked how the fish was measured and the subject replied, “I used my arm.” This negligent vessel operator and very poor fish measurer was issued two tickets, one for speed not reasonable and prudent and the other for possession of undersized striped bass.
U.S. Coast Guard Station Fire Island was conducting safety checks of vessels in the Fire Island Inlet. Because they routinely work with the local ECOs, the petty officers have become familiar with some of the state marine fishing regulations. While boarding a vessel in the inlet, the operator was questioned regarding his catch. Instead of answering, the operator began throwing fish overboard. The Coast Guard officers ordered him to stop and contacted ECO Chris DeRose, who was nearby. The Coast Guard escorted the vessel to a marina, where DeRose inspected the remaining catch. The three fisherman on board were in possession of three undersized fluke, one undersized sea bass and an undersized porgy. After interviewing the subjects, a total of six citations were issued and their undersized catch seized.
Pre-season tautog dumpers
ECO Michael Unger was using binoculars to watch two fishermen who were tucked away behind a house on East Beach in Glen Cove. The two fishermen were actively targeting and catching numerous tautog (blackfish) over the course of two hours. Unger watched and waited nearby for both men to leave with their catch. In a blink of an eye both men packed up and scurried down the beach front to leave the area. This indicated to the officer that they knew tautog season was not open yet and their actions could have negative consequences. Unger quickly drove to the beach exit that the fishermen were using and moved down a fenceline to greet them. When the fishermen were within 20 yards of the officer, they finally noticed him and hastily began to dump their buckets into the Long Island Sound. Unfortunately for them, the officer was already upon them and not only directly witnessed their actions, but also repeatedly gave the order to stop and to not dump. As one of the fisherman smiled and claimed he didn’t dump any fish, several confused tautog were spotted swimming by his feet. Tickets were issued for possession of out of season tautog, dumping upon signal to stop, failure to carry a marine fishing registry, and failure to comply with a lawful order of a conservation officer.
Glass eel enforcement
On Sept.29, a New York food fish dealer pleaded guilty to two commercial fish violations – the illegal commercialization of protected wildlife and unlawful possession of undersized fish (American eels). In the spring of 2014, after Division of Law Enforcement staff in Region 2 had received information from USFWS federal agents, 37 kilograms of live glass eels were seized at JFK International Airport. The illegal shipment of glass eels was valued at $60,000 and destined for Asia, where it would have been sold for more than double that amount. Due to the swift actions of the late DEC Lt. John Fitzpatrick, who spearheaded the investigation, and DEC’s Marine Resources staff, this case was successfully documented and DEC was able to return the seized glass eels to the waters of New York State. The 36-year-old defendant, of Brooklyn, was ordered to forfeit the $60,000 worth of glass eels and pay a fine of $10,000.
Two men, arrested back in March in Brooklyn for trafficking illegally harvested undersized American eels, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor level, illegal commercialization of protected wildlife. On July 10, the 40-year-old defendant, of Brooklyn, pleaded guilty to illegal commercialization of wildlife, a misdemeanor under the Environmental Conservation Law, and was ordered to pay $3,000 in restitution. Another defendant, a 37-year-old of Waldeboro, Maine, pleaded guilty to the same charge and was ordered to pay $15,000 in restitution. At the time of their arrests in the spring of 2015, Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) agents also apprehended several associated individuals in Virginia on similar charges. The arrests and subsequent conviction of these men concluded an extensive investigation involving cooperation, intelligence sharing, and a diligent enforcement effort between New York DEC’s Bureau of Environmental Criminal Investigation (BECI), USFWS agents, Maine’s Marine Law Enforcement Wardens, and the Virginia Marine Police Special Victims Unit. Police officers from these agencies worked around the clock for weeks, conducting surveillance of illegal fishermen along the eastern seaboard from Virginia to Maine, which led them to a fish distributor in Brooklyn. After the Maine defendant sold 10.7 kilos of glass eels (23.54 pounds, or approximately 70,000 individuals) to Zhou’s warehouse in Brooklyn, a search warrant was executed. DEC law enforcement personnel involved in this investigation include Lts. Jesse Paluch and Liza Bobseine, Investigator Jeff Conway and uniformed members assigned to New York City. Outside state agencies involved include Capt. John Croft of the Virginia Marine Police and Major Rene Cloutier of the Maine Department of Marine Resources. USFWS members included special agents Ryan Bessey, Tom Loring, and Chris Mina.
Postmortem death estimations
DEC’s Division of Law Enforcement conducted a joint meeting of regions 1 and 2 at Connetquot State Park in Islip. After the business agenda concluded, DEC biologist Kevin Hynes offered a presentation on common wildlife diseases, personal protective equipment, DNA possibilities and collection, postmortem interval estimation, lead test kits/evidence collection kits, and typical forensic necropsy field work. Following his presentation was ECO Robert Johnson, who provided training related to postmortem interval (time of death) estimation and techniques related to white-tailed deer. Techniques discussed included pupil diameter measurements, stages of rigor mortis, thigh temperature variation, and forensic entomology. After a brief classroom presentation, the officers were provided the opportunity to apply their skills and conduct time of death techniques on deer collected during the preceding 24 hours. The training was well received, with the officers looking forwarding to using these skills in field investigations
‘I was going to put them back’
ECO Tim Fay received a call from the Region 1 duty desk about a fisherman on a boat with a green top in Moriches Inlet keeping undersized fish. With only about an hour left of outgoing tide, the officer had to find the quickest way to get to the inlet. He contacted the Suffolk County Police Department Marine Mike vessel, whose crew was available to pick him up at a local dock. Fay and three SCPD officers patrolled the inlet and found the vessel in question fishing just outside the inlet in the Atlantic Ocean. The first violation was observed when the fisherman was directed to bring up his line, where an undersized scup was being used as striped bass bait. The fisherman was then directed into the bay, where a full compliance check could safely be performed. Once in the bay, Fay asked the fisherman how many fish he had onboard, to which he responded only the scup, since he had not caught any striped bass yet. The officer then boarded the vessel and discovered seven undersized black sea bass in the bait well. While Fay was busy inspecting the fish, the SCPD officers conducted a safety inspection of the vessel. As Fay was explaining the violations, the fisherman stated he was going to put the undersized fish back into the water after he caught a striped bass. The fisherman received two summonses for eight undersized fish