Violations for the illegal taking of shellfish from East Hampton Town waters could be elevated to aggravated charges. The town board considered an amendment to the town code toward that end last Thursday.
The hearing, which drew no comment, followed recommendations made to the board last month by David McMaster, an assistant town attorney, and Chris Carillo, the attorney for the town trustees, who have jurisdiction over many town waterways and bottomlands.
In the discussion last month, Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc described an “organized crab crime ring” that is stealing natural resources from the town. He and others, including the trustees, described vehicles full of nonresidents who, often in concert and using lookouts to evade authorities, illegally harvest shellfish from Napeague Harbor and other waterways, including Georgica Pond.
The trustees had also discussed the matter with Tim Treadwell, the town’s chief harbormaster. There is widespread suspicion among both governing bodies that shellfish illegally harvested from town waters are sold and served in New York City.
“It’s where we think some of the perpetrators are coming from,” Mr. Carillo said.
At the trustees’ June 26 meeting, Mr. Carillo said the town board “was fully behind” elevating the charges and noted “a lot of traction in the media” about the proposed code amendments, including in The Star and The New York Post, which published a June 24 article that one could charitably conclude borrowed liberally from this newspaper.
“The Post seems like a good venue to get it in,” Bill Taylor of the trustees said.
Mr. Carillo and Mr. McMaster had proposed that several violations be elevated to an aggravated charge, a misdemeanor. The proposed amendment would elevate to the status of aggravated offense the taking of shellfish by anyone without a commercial or recreational shellfish permit who acts in concert with other unlicensed persons; the taking of shellfish while using a lookout or other watch system such as communication via vehicles, telephone, or radio in an effort to evade authorities; fleeing or attempting to evade authorities in connection with enforcement of the code, or possessing shellfish for commercial purposes without possessing a commercial shellfish license.
Under the latter charge, anyone without a commercial permit found in possession of at least two times the recreational limit of shellfish would be deemed as possessing shellfish for commercial purposes. It would also apply to anyone found to be exporting shellfish outside the town.
Should the amendment be adopted, anyone convicted of aggravated taking of shellfish would be subject to up to 30 days’ imprisonment and/or an upgraded fine schedule. Aggravated offenses would be subject to a $1,000 fine, which would increase to $1,500 after 15 days, $2,000 after 30 days, and $2,500 after 90 days. The present fine for harvesting shellfish without a permit, for taking undersize shellfish, or for harvesting more than the legal limit is $150.
The board is expected to vote on the adoption of the proposed amendment at an upcoming meeting.