WASHINGTON – Daniel B. Birkbeck, 46, of North Stonington, Conn., was charged today in federal court with trafficking in and falsifying records for illegally harvested Atlantic Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis).
Commercial fishing for striped bass in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island is governed by a quota system overseen by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. This quota system was enacted in response to declining Striped Bass populations. Since 2003, Rhode Island’s commercial striped bass quota has been 243,625 pounds and Massachusetts’s commercial striped bass quota has been 1,159,750 pounds. As a result, the Massachusetts commercial striped bass season is open longer than the Rhode Island season.
Among other things, the Lacey Act makes it a crime for a person to knowingly transport and sell fish in interstate commerce when the fish was taken or possessed in violation of state law. The Lacey Act also makes it a crime for a person to knowingly make or submit a false record, account, or label for fish which has been transported in interstate commerce.
The indictment, filed today in U.S. District Court in Boston, charges that Birkbeck, who is licensed as a commercial fisherman in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts, harvested striped bass in Rhode Island waters after the Rhode Island commercial fishing season had closed and transported those fish to a fish dealer in Massachusetts for sale during the 2009 and 2010 commercial fishing seasons. The indictment charges that Birkbeck then falsely reported to the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries that he had legally harvested the striped bass in Massachusetts waters. The indictment charges that Birkbeck illegally harvested and sold 12,140 pounds of striped bass.
If convicted, Birkbeck faces a maximum penalty of five years’ in prison and a $250,000 fine per count, as well as forfeiture of the automobile and boat that he used to illegally harvest and transport the striped bass from Rhode Island to Massachusetts for sale.
An indictment is merely an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The case is being investigated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement. The prosecution is being handled by the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.