Justice News

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Another Commercial Fisherman Sentenced to Prison for Illegal Harvesting of Rockfish

WASHINGTON— Keith A. Collins, a commercial fisherman licensed in Maryland, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Md., to 13 months in prison for illegally overfishing striped bass also known as rockfish, the Justice Department announced.

He was also fined $4,500 and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $70,569 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to the benefit of the Chesapeake Bay Striped Bass Restoration Account. He was further sentenced to two years of supervised release.

"This prison sentence as well as past sentences in this case should serve as a warning to unscrupulous fishermen who consider illegally harvesting or underreporting their rockfish catch. You will be prosecuted and you will face stiff sentences," said John C. Cruden, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. "Fishing limits in the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding waterways have been enacted to protect a healthy sustainable population of striped bass and ensure a viable fishery up and down the eastern seaboard."

"For honest fishermen who work hard and play by the rules, it must be a relief to see violators held accountable," said Rod J. Rosenstein, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland.

Collins of Deale, Md., 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 two Maryland designated fish check-in stations.  In each year, he recorded a lower weight of striped bass than he actually caught. Collins and the check-in station operators 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.  Collins admitted that the estimated fair market value of the fish involved in the illegal transactions was between $600,000 and $750,000. In addition, Collins falsely tagged many of the striped bass that he caught in pound nets with tags indicating that the fish had been caught using a hook and line.

Sentencing dates for three commercial fishermen who have pleaded guilty to similar charges as Collins are listed below.

Jerry Decatur, Sr. July 1, 2009 9:30 AM

Kenneth Dent July 2, 2009 9:30 AM

Jerry Decatur, Jr. Aug. 12, 2009 9:30 AM

As a result of the investigation and prosecution, to date a total of 15 individuals and two fish wholesalers have been charged for illegally harvesting and underreporting their catch of striped bass. Ten individuals and a wholesale company have pleaded guilty. The prosecution to date has resulted in the sentencing of seven individuals including Collins to a total of 46 months in prison. They have also been ordered to a total of 13 months of home detention, $165,500 in fines and $284,819 in restitution.

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.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Stacy Dawson Belf for the District of Maryland and Senior Trial Attorney Wayne Hettenbach of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section.

09-524