A federal grand jury has indicted two members of Montauk's Gosman family and a commercial fishing boat owner on charges of conspiracy to commit fraud and obstructing an investigation in connection with a scheme to sell at least $250,000 in illegally caught fluke and black sea bass. The United States Department of Justice announced the indictment on April 21.
The indictment cites some 70 fishing trips that Christopher Winkler, 61, also of Montauk, made aboard his boat, New Age, from May 2014 to July 2016, during which he allegedly took fluke and black sea bass in excess of federal catch quotas.
The fish were sold to a now-defunct company, Greater New York Fish, at the New Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx. Asa Gosman, 45, and Bryan Gosman, 48, had an ownership interest in the company.
After the Bronx company stopped operating, Mr. Winkler continued to sell the allegedly illegal catch to the two men, through Bob Gosman Co., in which they had an ownership role, the Justice Department said.
The grand jury charged Mr. Winkler, Bryan Gosman, and Asa Gosman with one count each of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud as well as to unlawfully frustrate National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration regulatory efforts.
The men conspired to take at least 74,000 pounds of fluke, also known as summer flounder, to market, the Justice Department said. Fluke is a highly regulated species and has long been a source of contention among federal fisheries officials, recreational and commercial fishing advocates, and the representatives of the Mid-Atlantic and New England states. Federal law requires catch reports from both harvesters, such as Mr. Winkler, and fish dealers. The indictment alleges that part of the conspiracy was to falsify the catch reports and dealer reports to cover up the fact that the fish had been landed above quota limits.
Asa Gosman, Bryan Gosman, and Bob Gosman Co. Inc., acting through its agents and employees, were charged with obstructing the investigation by withholding documents and records sought by the grand jury.
Neither Bryan Gosman nor Asa Gosman would comment on the indictment this week. "We didn't know anything about this until 20 minutes ago," Bryan Gosman told The Star on April 21. Both declined to comment on Monday.
Efforts to reach Mr. Winkler were unsuccessful. In a 2018 article in Edible East End, he complained about the 50-pound daily quota for fluke while unloading a catch at Gosman's Dock. "That's the measly catch we get to keep in New York," he told the publication. He also spoke disparagingly of "regulatory discards," in which a particular species must by law be cast overboard, dead or alive, depending on when it is harvested.
Mr. Winkler's 50-foot-long New Age nearly sank in February 2020, about 25 miles south of Fire Island, with three Amagansett fishermen aboard. A Coast Guard cutter reached the badly listing New Age about an hour and a half after receiving a mayday call. The New Age was pumped out and made it to Belford, N.J., with about 1,500 pounds of fluke still aboard.
Both federal and state authorities regulate fisheries. NOAA sets the limit each state may harvest of a particular species, and each state divides that limit among its own commercial harvesters to share.
The Magnuson-Stevens Act, first passed in 1976, governs marine fisheries management in federal waters. Its intent is to foster the long-term biological and economic sustainability of fisheries.
The act "requires that we set annual catch limits for managed fisheries," said Sarah Bland, NOAA's assistant regional administrator for sustainable fisheries. "We use the most recent scientific information available." When catch limits are set, "monitoring and enforcing those is a critical part of the management program to assure they are adhered to," she said, "but also to create a level playing field for fishermen."
NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement is leading the investigation. Christopher Hale of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division's Environmental Crimes Section is the prosecutor.
With reporting by Christopher Walsh
This article has been updated since it was first published.