WASHINGTON Ė A former boat builder, Michael Bonner of Wetumpka, Ala. and a commercial fisherman, Gerald E. Andrews Jr. of Pensacola, Fla., were each sentenced today to three years of probation and fines of $25,000 and $40,000, respectively, the Justice Department announced.
Both Bonner and Andrews pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of making false documents and writings in an attempt to violate a moratorium on charter vessel permits under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson Act) regulations.
In November 2003, the Magnuson Act placed a moratorium on charter vessel/headboat permits for Gulf coastal migratory ocean-going fish and Gulf reef fish in an effort to address concerns regarding over-fishing and declining fish stocks. The regulation requires that only individuals who could provide the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) with documentation verifying that, prior to March 29, 2001, a charter vessel or headboat was under construction and that at least $5,000 had been spent towards construction as of that date, are eligible for the permit.
According to the information filed on Feb. 6, 2007, Michael Bonner and Gerald Andrews agreed in two separate contracts that Bonner would build Andrews two 65-foot commercial fishing vessels. The defendants are alleged to have submitted to the NMFS sales agreements signed and dated March 2, 2001 for both boats when in fact the agreements were actually signed on or about May 1, 2003 in an attempt to secure charter fishing permits prior to the moratoriumís going into effect in September 2003.
The moratorium created a demand for the permits since they were not available to all charter boat owners. Anyone who could not meet the March 2001 deadline would have to purchase a permit valued up to approximately $50,000 from another boat owner.
This case was prosecuted by Trial Attorney Mary Dee Carraway of the Justice Departmentís Environmental Crimes Section and was investigated by special agent Allan Coker of the National Marine Fisheries Service.