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Tuesday, December 8, 2009
District of Columbia Seafood Company, Two Employees Charged with Purchasing Illegally Harvested Striped Bass

WASHINGTON— A Washington, D.C., fish wholesaler and two of its employees have been charged in U.S. District Court in Maryland for the purchase of illegally harvested striped bass, commonly referred to as rockfish, from the Potomac River from 1995 through 2007, the Justice Department announced today.

Ocean Pro Ltd., aka Profish, and two of its fish buyers, Timothy Lydon of Bethesda, Md., and Benjamin Clough of Graysonville, Md., were charged in a five-count felony indictment, alleging one count of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, three substantive felony Lacey Act counts, and one count of making a false statement. The Lacey Act is a federal law that prohibits individuals or corporations from transporting, selling, or buying fish and wildlife harvested illegally.

The indictment alleges that from 1995 to May 2007, Profish purchased striped bass that had been illegally harvested in Maryland and Virginia, from at least five commercial fishermen. The indictment also charges one commercial fisherman, Gordon Jett of Fredericksburg, Va., for his role in illegally harvesting striped bass and selling them to Profish in 2007.

According to the indictment, in at least 1995, Profish began buying illegally harvested rockfish from local commercial fishermen. Initially, Lydon was Profish’s buyer for striped bass. Clough assumed that role in 2001, when he was hired by Profish, and he continued to purchase untagged and oversized striped bass from commercial fisherman and others until May 2007. The indictment alleges that in 2007, Jett, on numerous occasions, sold untagged and oversized striped bass to Profish.

In early spring each year, wild coastal striped bass (Morone saxatilis) enter the estuary or river where they were born to spawn, and then return to ocean waters to live, migrating along the coastline. Fish spawned from the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem contribute the greatest number of striped bass to the Atlantic coastal fishery, and the commercial fishery for Atlantic coastal striped bass is based primarily on migrations of fish born in the Chesapeake Bay area. Striped bass do not die after spawning. They may live up to 30 years and reach 50 pounds or more. The population of coastal Atlantic striped bass depends heavily upon the capability of older, larger, female striped bass to successfully reproduce.

Maryland regulates the commercial catch of striped bass from its waters and enforces the regulations of the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, which regulates the commercial catch of striped bass from Maryland waters located in the main stem of the Potomac River. The striped bass management and protection measures, including tagging requirements, closed seasons, size limits, and quota amounts, are focused on maintaining a target spawning stock to protect the fishery from over-fishing.

The Lacey Act carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the gain or loss as a result of the crime. Corporations face a maximum fine of $500,000 or twice the gain or loss as a result of the crime.

A criminal indictment is not a finding of guilt.  An individual or company charged by criminal indictment is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law. 

The charges are a result of the investigation by an interstate task force formed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Maryland Natural Resources Police and the Virginia Marine Police, Special Investigative, Unit in 2003. The task force conducted undercover purchases and sales of striped bass in 2003, engaged in covert observation of commercial fishing operations in the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River area, and conducted detailed analysis of area striped bass catch reporting and commercial business sales records from 2003 through 2007.

These cases are being prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorneys Kevin Cassidy and Wayne Hettenbach of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Stacy Belf of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland.

09-1308
Environment and Natural Resources Division
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