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Press Release

Superseding Indictment Charges New York Fisherman with Conspiracy, Fraud and Obstruction

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

A federal grand jury in the Eastern District of New York unsealed a superseding indictment charging a fisherman with both conspiracy and substantive charges in connection with a scheme to illegally overharvest fluke and black sea bass.

Christopher Winkler, 61, of Montauk, was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, to obstruct the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) through the falsification of fishing logs, and to unlawfully frustrate NOAA’s efforts at regulating federal fisheries.

In April 2021, Winkler was indicted with several others as part of a conspiracy that was incorporated as part of the new indictment. However, the other defendants were not charged in the superseding indictment. The superseding indictment alleges that between May 2014 and February 2017, Winkler, as captain of the F/V New Age, went on at least 220 fishing trips where he caught fluke or black sea bass in excess of applicable trip limits. At various times during the conspiracy, this fish was sold to two now-defunct companies in the New Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx and a fish dealer in Montauk. According to court filings, the overages of fish included at least 200,000 pounds of fluke, and the overall over-quota fish (of all species) were valued at least at $850,000 wholesale.

Under federal law, a fishing captain is required to accurately detail his catch on a form known as a Fishing Vessel Trip Report (FVTR), which is mailed to NOAA. Similarly, the first company that buys fish directly from a fishing vessel, termed a fish dealer, is required to specify what it purchases on a federal form known as a dealer report. Pursuant to statutory mandate, NOAA utilizes this information to set policies designed to ensure a sustainable fishery. The superseding indictment alleges that part of the conspiracy was to falsify both FVTRs and dealer reports in order to cover-up the fact that fish were taken in excess of quotas.

Initiated as part of Operation One-Way Chandelier, the charges are part of a multi-year, ongoing investigation into fisheries fraud on Long Island. NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement investigated the case. Trial Attorney Christopher Hale and Senior Trial Attorney Kenneth Nelson of the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section are prosecuting the case.

An indictment is merely an allegation and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Updated April 4, 2024

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Environment
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Press Release Number: 22-60