Safe Harbor law signed by Gov. Cuomo

Photo by Doug Knuth, via Wikipedia Commons

The Safe Harbor bill, which allows commercial fisherman operating under out-of-state permits to dock in New York harbors during emergency situations, was signed into law by Governor Cuomo on August 21.

The law (S.4051-a/A.4289-a) will keep commercial fisherman out of the courtroom if presented with a high risk situation on the water and allow legal docking in New York. Unsafe weather conditions, mechanical malfunctions and health risks are qualified as applicable under the new law, which protects fisherman from prosecution.

Sen. Ken LaValle, R–Port Jefferson and Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. I–Sag Harbor, sponsored the bill which is based on the previously unwritten practice by the Department of Environmental Conservation.

“Commercial fishing is a difficult and sometimes perilous occupation. It’s critically important that when a captain of a fishing vessel makes a decision to dock during an emergency situation that they do not face unnecessary criminal charges,” Senator LaValle said, “The new law will enable New York State to offer safe harbor to out-of-state fisherman with one less factor to contend with.”

The law states that fishermen “shall make every effort to notify both the permitting state and the department as soon as danger is known and communication signals allow.”

The risks must be further validated by a state appointed mechanic, health examiner or the national weather authority. The amendment to the Environmental Conservation Law allows for safe docking and regardless of the harboring state’s fishing quota.

The law came following the January 2015 prosecution of Hampton Bays’ Bill Reed, a commercial fisherman, who sought refuge in Shinnecock Inlet claiming that a storm put him at risk on the water. His more than 600-pound load exceeded the state’s regulated fluke limit, which permits 70 pounds per trip, and led to his prosecution.

The charges against Reed, brought by the DEC, were later dismissed in a Suffolk County courtroom.

The defendant’s attorney, Daniel Rodgers said, “We appreciate the efforts of Assemblyman Thiele and Senator LaValle in recognizing the urgent need to protect commercial fisherman in emergency situations.”

“It was unfortunate that the incident had to be the subject of a court proceeding,” Thiele said. “However I am pleased that the final result is a new law that provides clear direction to commercial fisherman when confronted with emergency situations.”