NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

September 4, 2013

Illegal lobster landings spur charges

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — ROCKPORT — The summer season is winding down, but two West Roxbury men are facing charges of trying to illegally take home some 30 Rockport summer staples — lobsters.

Igor Moochnick, 39, is facing 12 counts of illegally possessing small lobsters, while Pioter Epshtein, 42, is facing 18 counts of the same charge, with each illegal lobster amounting to a single charge.

Rockport police said yesterday that the men are also facing charges because their diving equipment was not properly marked and they were more than 100 feet from their diving marker.

The incident started Monday when divers on Old Garden Beach alerted a lifeguard of suspicious activity. The lifeguard then alerted police, as well as the shellfish constables and Harbormasters Scott Story and Rosemary Lesch.

It was around 10:45 a.m. that the local divers with the North Shore Frogmen, a diving club that has been active in the area since 1958, said they noticed something fishy while preparing for a dive.

Vinny Egizi, one of four divers out that day and the Frogmen’s organizational treasurer, said he noticed that the two men were handling a lot of lobsters.

“If I get two or three lobsters a day, I’m pretty pleased,” he said.

Scuba divers can obtain lobster permits, but only lobsters of a certain size can be taken out of the water and kept.

Egizi said he could not dive that day because something was wrong with a piece of his equipment. But when he asked one of the West Roxbury men to borrow some gear, the men said their equipment was rented. That was another red flag, Egizi said.

“People that rent gear typically don’t dive often and wouldn’t get a lobster license in the first place,” he said.

Story said he and Lesch had been monitoring Moochnick and Epshtein for about 45 minutes when they saw the men come up holding lobsters.

“We had to wait until they came to shore with their catch,” he said. “None of it was legal.”

Rockport is a popular diving location because water becomes deep relatively close to shore.

Egizi said photos were taken of the lobsters in the cooler and of the men and the equipment.

He said the usual process for bringing up lobsters includes measuring them underwater and sometimes again on shore, but he added that hauling in undersized lobsters while scuba diving is a rarity.

“We hold our members to the standards of following all the rules,” he said. “We expect the others to do the same,” he said.

The incident is at least the second this season involving the illegal harvesting of undersized lobsters.

In April, four people from Stoneham and Reading were each ordered to pay $300 fines after admitting in Gloucester District Court to multiple counts of catching short lobsters.

Each of the four defendants pleaded guilty to three of the counts of catching lobsters that were found to be illegal under minimum size standards, and Judge Joseph Jennings dismissed additional counts against each person at the state’s request. Reading residents Kyuree Jin, 53, and Dukhee H. Lee, 54, and Stoneham residents John N. Kim, 52, and Mi H. Kim, 48, paid fines of $300 each.

A 52-year-old Haverhill man was convicted in Gloucester District Court last October on 21 charges of trapping undersized lobsters. In that case, William A. Calnan, who also pleaded guilty on each charge, was ordered to pay a total of $2,100 in fees for the 21 offenses.