WASHINGTON—A father and son pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Md., to illegally over fishing striped bass, also known as rockfish, from 2003 through 2006, the Justice Department announced.
Joseph Peter Nelson Jr., a commercial fisherman licensed in Maryland, pleaded guilty to four felony violations of the Lacey Act for participating in a scheme to illegally over harvest and under report the amount of rockfish he took from the Potomac River. His father, Joseph Peter Nelson Sr., also pleaded guilty to one felony violation of the Lacey Act for assisting in transporting the illegally taken rockfish in interstate commerce.
"This concerted law enforcement initiative has revealed extensive illegal activity related to harvesting and reporting of rockfish," said John C. Cruden, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. "The Justice Department is working with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute these crimes to ensure a healthy, sustainable population of striped bass, up and down the eastern seaboard."
"The defendants knowingly violated the law and took steps to conceal their crimes," said Rod J. Rosenstein, U. S. Attorney for the District of Maryland.
According to the statement of facts filed with the court, from 2003 to 2006, Nelson Jr., with the assistance of his father, and a Maryland designated check-in station named Golden Eye Seafood, operated by Robert Lumpkins, inflated the number of fish recorded and under reported the weight. By inflating the number of fish caught and under reporting the weight, the records made it appear that Nelson Jr., had not reached the poundage quota for the year. He then requested more tags from the state of Maryland in order to catch more fish above his quota which were never reported by Golden Eye Seafood and were transported to other states for sale.
In addition, Nelson Jr. admitted to catching rockfish that were below the legal size limit in Maryland, and using tags that falsely indicated the method of catch. The tags indicated that he had caught the fish using hook and line when in fact they were caught using a net. Nelson admitted that he used a knife to simulate hook marks on the fish in order to avoid detection. On eight different occasions Nelson Jr. with the assistance of his father sold a total of over 2500 pounds of illegally harvested and tagged fish to an undercover agent posing as an out of state fish buyer. Nelson Jr. also admitted that he falsely and selectively tagged the rockfish in order to conceal where the fish had been caught in order to illegally maximize his catch.
According to the statement of facts, the total amount of rockfish over harvested by Nelson was approximately 14,500 pounds, in addition to the rockfish that was falsely tagged. The total market value of the Nelson’s over-harvest of rockfish was in excess of $72,000.
On June 11, 2009, Golden Eye Seafood and its owner, Robert Lumpkins of St. Mary’s County, Md., pleaded guilty to violating and conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, by falsely recording the amount and weight of rockfish that were harvested by local fisherman and checked-in through Golden Eye from 2003 to 2007. Lumpkins and Golden Eye are set to be sentenced on Sept. 22 and 23, 2009.
A total of 14 individuals and two corporations have been convicted of illegally harvesting, purchasing and selling rockfish in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., as a result of this investigation. Eight individuals and one corporation have been sentenced, and 6 individuals and one corporation are awaiting sentencing.
Sentencing has been set for both Nelsons for Oct. 22, 2009 at 9:30 A.M in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Md.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Stacy Dawson Belf and Christen Sproule for the District of Maryland and Senior Trial Attorney Wayne Hettenbach of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section.