A commercial fisherman accused of conspiring with others to sell 200,000 pounds (90,000 kilos) of fish in excess of legal quotas has been convicted in federal court in New York.
Christopher Winkler, 63, of Montauk, was convicted Wednesday in Central Islip of one count of criminal conspiracy, two counts of mail fraud and two counts of obstruction of justice. Winkler, the captain of a fishing trawler called the New Age, was accused of falsifying records to sell illegal fluke and black sea bass worth nearly $900,000 between 2014 and 2017.
“Fluke and black sea bass play a vital part in our marine ecosystem and quotas are designed to prevent overfishing and stabilize populations for the public good,” Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim said in a news release. “We will continue to seek justice against those who flout laws that protect fisheries and the fishing industry.”
Winkler's attorneys Richard Levitt and Peter Smith said the case was based on outdated limits on fluke, also known as summer flounder.
“There is nothing at all rational about this system, but Mr. Winkler and other Long Island fishermen are easy scapegoats for this regulatory insanity,” the lawyers said in a statement.
The New York Times reported that Levitt told jurors that Winkler was a “working stiff” who had been wronged by the government in a misguided prosecution. Levitt also pointed to rules that force fishermen to throw over-quota fish back into the water even if most die.
Prosecutors said Winkler supplied over-the-limit fish to dealers, including Gosman’s fish dock in Montauk and two others that operated out of the New Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx.
Two members of the Gosman family, cousins Asa and Bryan Gosman, pleaded guilty in 2021 to a single count of mail fraud and cooperated in the government’s investigation.
Newsday reported that Winkler's attorneys sought to paint the prosecution's witnesses as untrustworthy, noting that many, including the Gosmans, admitted to drug and alcohol use.
Prosecutor Christopher Hale said during his summation that some of the witnesses were “scoundrels” but added, “We take the witnesses as they come. It’s not a beauty pageant.”
Levitt vowed to appeal the verdict. Winkler remains free on bail and no date has been set for his sentencing.