New Jersey conservation officers, posing as anglers out for a day of fishing aboard a Belmar party boat, caught the captain and his first mate deliberately killing undersized summer flounder and filleting them for bait to boost patrons’ chances of landing more of them.
The captain and owner of the Big Mohawk, Christopher W. Hueth, 48, of Spring Lake; his first mate James R. Dugan Jr., 50, of Belmar; and another crewman, Michael A. Worrall, 32, of Hamilton, face thousands of dollars in penalties for a variety of marine fish violations witnessed by the undercover officers. Five patrons of the Big Mohawk also were hit with summonses......
Conservation officers with the Marine Law Enforcement Region of the Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife launched the undercover operation after receiving tips about Big Mohawk’s deliberate, illegal harvesting of undersized summer flounder, also known as fluke. During the deep-sea excursion, the conservation officers witnessed the first mate killing the undersized summer flounder by grabbing the tail and banging the fish’s head into the deck of the boat. The fish then were filleted while crewmen repeatedly bragged that the Big Mohawk caught more fluke than other party vessels because it used summer flounder as bait.
Undercover conservation officers also saw patrons keep undersized summer flounder and throw the short fish onto the fillet table, where the crew chopped them up for bait. The lawmen counted at least 25 carcasses of flounder illegally caught and filleted.
In New Jersey, the recreational summer flounder size limit is a minimum of 18 inches, and anglers are allowed to keep six fish per day.
When the boat docked after the Aug. 15 trip, uniformed state conservation officers conducted a thorough inspection and, in addition to the captain and crew members, apprehended five party boat patrons.
Hueth, the Big Mohawk’s owner and captain, received summonses for discarding parts of summer flounder before docking, and filleting fish under the minimum size limit -- a violation of the vessel’s Special Fillet Permit. This permit, issued by the DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, allows party fishing vessels to fillet legal-size fish while at sea, but requires the vessel to retain all carcasses for potential inspection by state conservation officers. Conviction for a first-time violation results in a 60-day suspension of the special permit.
Dugan, the first mate, was cited for discarding parts of summer flounder and filleting undersized fish. Conservation officers issued summonses to Worrall, the other crewman, after they saw him selling seven summer flounder to two patrons. According to state regulations, summer flounder can only be sold to an authorized summer flounder dealer.
If convicted, Big Mohawk’s captain and his two mates face penalties of up to $3,000 for each of the summonses issued to them.
The identities of the five patrons, all from New Jersey, and the summonses lodged against them are as follows:
- Jung K. Cha, 56, of Wayne; possession of three summer flounder measuring less than 18 inches.
- Jong N. Kim, 56, of Palisades Park; Joseph V. Mercurio, 54, of Newton, and Stephen J. Thomas, 56, of Hillside, were each cited for taking five summer flounder over the daily bag limit.
- Scott S. Rever, 40, of Basking Ridge, received a summons for taking one summer flounder over the daily bag limit.
The anglers face a penalty of $30 for each summer flounder possessed or taken illegally. Law-abiding anglers and other sportsmen and sportswomen who witness fish or wildlife violations are encouraged to call Operation Game Thief at 800-222-0456.
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