April 23, 2009 - WASHINGTON, Thomas L. Hallock, a commercial fisherman licensed in Maryland, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Md., to 12 months in prison, for illegally overfishing striped bass also known as rockfish, the Justice Department announced.
He was also fined $4,000 and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $40,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to the benefit of the Chesapeake Bay Striped Bass Restoration Account.
'If fishermen obey the rules, the rockfish population can be sustained forever,' said Rod J. Rosenstein, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland. 'If we allow overfishing, the rockfish population could be wiped out very quickly.'
Hallock of Catharpin, Va., pleaded guilty on Feb. 19, 2009, to falsely recording the amount of striped bass that he harvested from 2003 to 2007 with the assistance of a Maryland designated fish check-in station. In each year, he failed to record some of the striped bass that was caught or recorded a lower weight of striped bass than was actually caught. Hallock and the check-in station operator would also falsely inflate the actual number of fish harvested. By under-reporting the weight of fish harvested, and over-reporting the number of fish taken, the records would make it appear that the defendants had failed to reach the maximum poundage quota for the year, but had nonetheless run out of tags. As a result, the state would issue additional tags that could be used by the defendants allowing them to catch striped bass above their maximum poundage quota amount. Hallock admitted to overfishing 68,442 pounds of rockfish that had a fair market retail value of $342,210.
In a related matter, charges were filed on April 20, 2009, against the fish wholesaler and its owner who operated the check-in station that assisted Hallock and others in violating the law. Golden Eye Seafood LLC and owner, Robert Lumpkins of St. Mary's County, Md., were charged with four felony counts including conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and three substantive violations of the Act. According to the charging document, Golden Eye Seafood and Lumpkins also purchased fish that were outside the legal size limit from an undercover agent and sold those fish to purchasers in New York, Virginia, and California.
Golden Eye and Lumpkins also conspired to falsely record and verify lower weights of and higher numbers of the commercially harvested rockfish than were actually being caught. By increasing the number of fish allegedly checked-in and decreasing the weight, the defendants made it appear as if they and other Maryland fisherman were using more tags and catching lower weights of fish. They in turn would request more tags as it appeared they had not reached their poundage quota.
Additionally, John Evans, a commercial fisherman who operated in St. Mary's County and the surrounding waters of the Chesapeake Bay, was charged with a violation of the Lacey Act for overfishing striped bass.
The charges contained in the criminal information are not a finding of guilt. An individual charged by criminal information is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law. The Lacey Act carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 per offense.
Sentencing dates for the remaining six commercial fishermen who have pleaded guilty to similar charges as Hallock are listed below.
Charles Quade, April 27, 2009, 9:30 AM
Thomas L. Crowder, April 28, 2009, 9:30 AM
John W. Dean, April 30, 2009, 9:30 AM
Keith A. Collins, May 28, 2009, 9:30 AM
Kenneth Dent, July 2, 2009, 9:30 AM
Jerry Decatur, Sr., July 1, 2009, 9:30 AM
Cannon Seafood, a Washington, D.C., fish wholesaler, its owner, Robert Moore Sr. and his son Robert Moore Jr. are scheduled for sentencing on May 8, 2009, at 9:30 AM in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Two fishermen, Joseph Peter Nelson Jr. of Great Mills, Md., and his father Joseph Peter Nelson of Avenue, Md., have been indicted in the District of Maryland and are awaiting trial.
As a result of the investigation and prosecution, two fish wholesalers and a total of 14 individuals have been charged, including today's defendants.
Coalition of environmental groups goes to Congress to oppose Pallone bill on fisheries flexibility
SEAFOOD.COM NEWS [Gloucester Daily Times] By Richard Gaines Staff Writer April 23, 2009 Ñ
Gloucester, MA- A galaxy of non-government organizations with the deep-pocketed Pew Charitable Trusts at its core is urging Congress to stay away from the coastal coalition assembling behind a bill to bring some flexibility to fishery recovery programs.
Nearly four dozen environmental groups from states as far flung as Hawaii warned that the bill filed by Congressman Frank Pallone Jr., D-N. J., and co-sponsored by seven others, including Congressmen Barney Frank and John Tierney, both D-Mass., from along the Atlantic coast, is 'misguided' and would allow the 'overexploitation' of the most valuable fish populations.
A majority of the petitioners are recipients of grants that emanate from the Pew Charitable Trusts, a multibillion dollar philanthropy organized by the family of the founders of Sun Oil Co.
Pew-backed science predicts empty oceans from human impact and advocates for hard-line conservation methods including no fish zones and catch quotas.
The letter writers urged Congress not to meddle with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, as reauthorized in 2006, which 'established clear requirements to end overfishing and rebuild depleted fish populations to healthy levels in as short a time as possible depending on the species' biology.'
Pallone and his co-sponsors, including Congressman Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., want Congress to amend Magnuson to give regulators the option of allowing fishing for strong species in a fishery that is now barred to protect the weakest stock.
Pallone calls the bill 'The Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act.'
'This legislation is the best way to rebuild our fisheries without bankrupting tackle shops, party boats and commercial fishermen,' said Pallone. 'The current process of managing our nation's fisheries is based on arbitrary deadlines set by Congress which has continued to negatively impact fishing communities.'
Pallone described his bill as 'the best way to allow for the natural restoration of fish stocks at the same time it provides enough flexibility to keep commercial and recreational fishing alive. It does nothing to change the existing Magnuson-Stevens Act mandate to end overfishing,' he noted.
The principle of giving regulators some flexibility to alter statutory deadlines is embedded in the 'mixed stock exception,' a non-binding regulatory guideline that was the focus of federal litigation against the National Marine Fisheries Service by the states of Massachusetts and New Hampshire that brought a federal judge's brief intervention last winter.
Judge Edward Harrington chastised NMFS for failing to give serious consideration to the exception and instead clamped down on fishing for healthy species while protecting the weakest in the New England groundfishery.
That process, regulating to the weakest link, is said to have kept commercial fishermen from taking as much as $100 million worth of allowed catch and has produced a regulatory scheme to take effect for a year on May 1 that will severely constrain fishing in the waters from Long Island, N.Y., to deep within Georges Bank to the east of Cape Cod.
That scheme within an Interim Rule introduced last month by Jane Lubchenco, the national administrator for oceans and fishing, is expected to hit hardest the fleets in New Bedford and on Long Island.
The Interim Rule charges fishermen two days against their permitted allotment for one day of fishing in the southern waters. Along with the reduction in fishing time, the rule bars any retention of winter flounder.
Winter flounder represented 80 percent of groundfish landings on Long Island last year, according to Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association.
Fishing interests questioned the wisdom of that rule, which would force the discard of any winter flounder caught while fishing for allowable stocks.
Throughout the region, permitted allotments which were already less than half the face value, will be cut by another 18 percent.
According to the economic impact study published with the one year regulatory scheme, the cutbacks would cost the region's fishing industry 9 percent of its revenue, but critics wondered how halving the fishing time and then cutting it by 18 percent in southern waters could cost so little.
The constraints were designed to protect winter flounder, a species that has not been recovering successfully despite severe cutbacks in fishing.
'The matter in which the economic figures ... are represented masks the devastation these measures will have on the groundfishery,' said the Northeast Seafood Coalition, a regional research and lobbying organization based in Gloucester.
Lubchenco's rule was a softening of a draft rule that would have closed the southern waters to all fishing except with hooks.
The petitioners, including the Conservation Law Foundation, Defenders of Wildlife, Ocean Conservancy, Ocean, the Pew Environmental Group, Greenpeace USA, and the Blue Ocean Institute, argued 'historical experience Ñ along with scientific and economic studies Ñ demonstrate that delaying rebuilding fish stocks increases fishing pressure on valuable fish populations and ecosystems.'
Among the signers of the April 7 petition letter were Peter Shelley, vice president of Conservation Law Foundation, Phillippe Cousteau, president and co-founder of Environment America, and John Hocevar, director of the Oceans Campaign for Greenpeace USA.
To see more of the Gloucester Daily Times or to subscribe, go to http://www.gloucestertimes.com/.
Copyright © 2009, Gloucester Daily Times, Mass.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
(These fish will soon reach Jersey, possibly this summer.)
April 23, 2009 - RALEIGH, N.C., A handful of ravenous, venomous lionfish, a species native to the western Pacific, were spotted off North Carolina in 2000.
Turns out they like it here. A lot.
The lionfish population has exploded at a pace unlike anything scientists have ever seen from an invasive fish species in this part of the world. They are appearing in huge numbers from here southward into the Caribbean and are so plentiful that divers off the North Carolina coast routinely find up to 100 on a single shipwreck.
'If you go deeper than 100 feet, they're ubiquitous now,' said Paula Whitfield, a researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Beaufort. 'They're absolutely everywhere.'
Little research has been done on lionfish, and researchers at NOAA's Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research in Beaufort, N.C., are rapidly becoming some of the world's leading experts as they respond to worried fisheries managers. It's feared that the newcomers are making life harder for already struggling popular commercial reef fish such as grouper and snapper by stealing their food, seizing their turf and eating their young.
'They're eating everything,' said Lisa A. Mitchell, executive director of Reef Environmental Education Foundation, a Florida nonprofit group that is helping several Caribbean governments deal with the influx of lionfish. 'They could wipe out entire reefs.'
The odd offshore interloper has joined the growing list of harmful species - such as zebra mussels in the Great Lakes and the fire ants and Japanese stilt grass that are problems in the Triangle and elsewhere - spread by global commerce, climate change and misguided humans.
There are so many lionfish off North Carolina already that scientists don't think it's possible to eliminate them, but hope there may be ways to at least control the population. The researchers are joining forces with sport divers and even culinary instructors from Carteret Community College to see if the critters can be kept in check with spears, nets and tartar sauce.
Lionfish, it turns out, have a sweet, white meat similar to the tasty groupers and snappers they are threatening.
Discovery Diving Co. in Beaufort and Olympus Dive Center in Morehead City, N.C., are recruiting sport divers for a series of 'lionfish rodeos' during the summer dive season, the first May 18-19. Later ones likely will also involve researchers and representatives of the culinary school, said Debby Boyce, owner of Discovery Dive Shop.
The scientists and divers hope to persuade restaurants in the area to start serving lionfish.
'They taste good, and if we can create a food market for them maybe that will not only help keep them in control but maybe take the pressure off some other species,' Boyce said.
With their plumagelike spines and orange stripes, lionfish can be attractive additions to a saltwater aquarium, and it's believed they were introduced on the Atlantic coast after outdoor aquariums in Miami were damaged by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The warm, north-flowing currents of the Gulf Stream helped them spread north.
In places off North Carolina the population density appears to be several times the norm in their native waters, and it doesn't seem to have peaked, said NOAA researcher James Morris.
'I don't know when they're going to reach (the environment's) carrying capacity,' he said.
Morris' work includes the first scientific descriptions of lionfish reproduction, feeding habits on reefs and their interactions with native predators.
From the limited facts that are available, the lionfish seems like an almost perfectly designed invasive species, Mitchell said. It has few if any predators here, reaches sexual maturity rapidly, reproduces in great numbers and has an appearance that doesn't alert its prey to the dangers.
For the first rodeo, divers simply will learn how to gather lionfish, go out and collect them and then dine on the catch. It will also give scientists a chance to study later how quickly lionfish repopulate a given site that is cleared.
Rodeo divers will gently shoo the fish into a net while wearing the kind of puncture-proof gloves worn by workers who handle used hypodermic needles and other medical waste, Boyce said.
The venom is in the ribbonlike flesh along the shaft of the spines, and a simple, safe way to clean them is to hold them with pliers and use wire cutters to snip off the spines.
Then they can be cleaned like a typical fish, Boyce said.
If lionfish are going to be fished commercially, someone needs to find a way to catch them in useful quantities. They're rarely caught on hook and line. They are fearless, and hold their ground when approached by divers, perhaps because few things in the ocean would attack them, so they can be easily taken with spears, a labor-intensive method. NOAA researchers, though, have developed a promising trap that uses live bait.
In North Carolina, the fish mostly dwell in the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, miles offshore, and are found mostly at depths of 100 feet or more. Elsewhere, though, in place like the Bahamas where the shallows are warm, they can be found right offshore.
Their sting is not known to be fatal, but may lead to paralysis - a worry for divers at the deep spots where the fish are common here - and can be painful.
'The first symptom is profuse swearing,' Mitchell said.
But there's at least one other good thing about lionfish, she said: 'They come with their own toothpicks.'
(c) 2009, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.). Distributed by Mclatchy-Tribune News Service.