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Apr 22, 2016 10:28 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Fishermen Say State Officers Violating The Constitution With Searches And Sales Of Seized Catch

Attorney Dan Rodgers and State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., with fishermen Dan and Paul Lester and Rev. Steven Howarth, called for changes to state statutes allowing DEC officers to search fishermens' boats and properties without probably cause and seize their catch. M. Wright
Apr 22, 2016 1:23 PM

State lawmakers and fishermen’s advocates are pushing legislation that would rein in the powers of search and seizure by state environmental enforcement officers.

State Department of Environmental Conservation officers routinely cross geographic boundaries in their searches of fishermen’s boats, trucks and properties, charged Dan Rodgers, an attorney who has represented several fishermen against DEC charges, and then compete economically against those fishermen in selling the seized fish for profits to pad state budgets.

“These officers are seizing property and then selling it and using the funds to augment their budget,” Mr. Rodgers said at a gathering of fishermen and officials at the home of brothers Danny and Paul Lester, commercial fishermen from Amagansett, on Thursday afternoon. “It’s legal under New York State law, but it’s not legal under the constitution.”

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said that he and State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle are crafting a bill for introduction to the State Legislature next month that would place some limits on the abilities of DEC officers to search fishermen’s properties—perhaps requiring some proof of reasonable suspicion that a regulation is being violated.

“We’re looking to put some checks and balances on this power of search and seizure,” Mr. Thiele said. “The burden shouldn’t be on [fishermen] to reverse the presumption of innocence and go through all these hoops and court dates to try to prove that you were doing nothing wrong and get your property back.”

The Lester brothers have had fish seized by DEC officers at least four times, they said, once in a high-profile case that led to an investigation of the DEC by the state Inspector General’s office. In that instance, a DEC officer walked into the Lesters’ backyard when they were not present and seized a carton of fish packed for delivery to market and took the fish, about $800 worth, to a nearby fish market and sold it.

“They came right here and took the fish out of the yard,” Dan Lester said on Thursday afternoon, leaning against a trailered fishing boat loaded with fish trap components and adorned with a flapping American flag. “We weren’t here to witness it or speak for ourselves. He just walked in and took our fish.”

“He drove from here, right around the corner [to a fish market] and said, ‘Here’s a box of fish,’” Paul Lester added, nodding toward Stuart’s Seafood Market, just one street away.

More than four years later, after being acquitted of the violations claimed by the officer, and in the midst of the IG’s investigation, the DEC reimbursed the Lesters for the lost revenue. But Mr. Rodgers said that was a drop in the bucket in the $90,000 in fish that officers seized from fishermen and sold in 2010 and 2011, and that without tailoring the statutes governing officers the abuses can continue.

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Goosestepping government goons don't care about the Constitution. Good luck though.
By Preliator Lives (432), Obamavillie on Apr 22, 16 2:46 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By lawnman (21), easthampton on Apr 22, 16 4:52 PM
The DEC is an out of control, damn near omnipotent organization, with incredible police powers including, but not limited to search and seizure WITHOUT A WARRANT!!!! Just incredible.
By bigfresh (4595), north sea on Apr 22, 16 5:20 PM
1 member liked this comment
The DEC have become a band of Rogues out here. They seem to do whatever they want. Time for the towns Trustees to get involved before they really become out of control.
By SisBoomBonacker (106), Hamptons on Apr 22, 16 5:48 PM
1 member liked this comment
maybe, just maybe, if you didn't break the law then this wouldn't be an issue. The one time the DEC was out of bounds but how about the other 3x?
By Hambone (514), New York on Apr 22, 16 6:27 PM
4 members liked this comment
Spend the resources catching welfare stay at home losers robbing the system. Nah we'll spend our time going after hard working honest fisherman. This is why Donald Trump will be president.
By chief1 (2790), southampton on Apr 22, 16 8:41 PM
You must mean someone else than the rabble listed in the story b/c they aren't innocent
By Hambone (514), New York on Apr 24, 16 11:53 AM
Really, Lawnman? Harshing on a Rev? C'mon bruh, get over yourself.
By em (51), sagaponack on Apr 22, 16 9:42 PM
1 member liked this comment
Really, Lawnman? Harshing on a Rev? C'mon bruh, get over yourself.
By em (51), sagaponack on Apr 22, 16 9:42 PM
Given an opportunity, commercial fisherman will steal the last surviving female breeding fish. I worked on commercial boats for many years and what goes on is disgusting! All these low-lifes care about is getting every last $$$$$$ from the sea.If the DEC wasn't keeping tabs on them, there would be no fish!
By mtkfish (59), montauk on Apr 23, 16 9:25 AM
1 member liked this comment
One of the most ignorant and ill informed posts on 27 East ever, and that is really saying something!
By bigfresh (4595), north sea on Apr 23, 16 11:18 AM
Bit of a hyperbole but not wholly wrong. There is a classic economic argument called the "English Meadow". In the middle ages farmers could graze their ship on private lands but also on the public green. Lo and behold the private lands were lush and green and the public lands were dustbowls. The economic finding is that if you give it away and it has value it will be abused. Marx used it later as a proof that capitalism was wrong (using up resources for the benefit of a few).
By Hambone (514), New York on Apr 24, 16 11:56 AM
One of the smartest posts on 27east ever. Which isn't saying much.
He's right Bigfresh. It's not that commercial fishermen are bad people as mtkfish would seem to imply it's just human nature. Remember Gordon Gecko's "Greed Is Good, Greed Works" line? That's how free markets will run the world if there is not regulation and enforcement. We'd be like locusts, completely consuming every last drop of a resource and when it is gone, moving on to another. The DEC needs to be allowed to search these ...more
By em (51), sagaponack on Apr 26, 16 6:14 AM
Everyone needs to play by the rules, both the DEC and the fishermen. If the fisherman makes his living off of a public resource then he can expect to be regulated by and adhere to the rules of a public governing body. It doesn't matter how hard working anyone is, and not all of them are honest. Rules are still rules and they are there for a reason. As far as the DEC goes, I think that they should should stick to what the law allows, in regards to search and seizure.
By ArturoBandini (30), on Apr 25, 16 4:34 PM
The question is this, does the US Constitution apply to commercial fishermen or not? Is a governmental agency able to search PRIVATE PROPERTY WITHOUT A SEARCH WARRANT? I agree that there need to regulations regarding commercial and recreational harvesting of shell and fin fish, that is a no brainer. My issue is with an agency that has virtually no oversight, no elected officials to answer to the taxpayers and extraordinary police powers. A DEC officer can pull over a vehicle to search for pesticides ...more
By bigfresh (4595), north sea on May 2, 16 7:34 AM
1 member liked this comment