Seafood Company And Owner Admit False Records Conspiracy, Overharvesting Sea Scallops Off The Atlantic Coast
D.C. Air and Seafood To Pay $520,371 in Restitution
NEWARK, N.J. – A Maine seafood company and one of its owners admitted in federal court today that they conspired to falsify records and obstruct justice to conceal the overfishing of Atlantic Sea Scallops, submitting documents that failed to report approximately 79,666 pounds harvested off the coast of New Jersey and Cape Cod in Massachusetts, New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
D.C. Air & Seafood Inc., a seafood wholesaler based in Winter Harbor, Maine, and one of its owners, Christopher Byers, 41, also of Winter Harbor, pleaded guilty to separate informations charging them with conspiring with each other and with six fishing boat operators to prepare false reports to conceal the overharvesting. Byers entered the guilty pleas on behalf of himself and the company before U.S. District Judge William H. Walls in Newark federal court. The six boat operators previously pleaded guilty before Judge Walls and await sentencing.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
D.C. Air & Seafood purchased Atlantic Sea Scallops harvested by federally permitted vessels in the Elephant Trunk Access Area – a large sea scallop fishing ground off the mid-Atlantic coast. The area, and others managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), had been closed to fishing as part of an area rotation management program to rebuild the scallop population, but were open to limited scallop fishing by federally permitted vessels for two-week periods in March 2007, July 2007 and March 2008.
During those periods, individual vessels were restricted to harvesting no more than 400 pounds of scallops per vessel per trip. Vessels operated by the conspiring boat operators failed to report a total of 79,666 pounds of scallops harvested off the coast of New Jersey and Cape Cod for purchase by D.C. Air & Seafood during the permit periods. Some of the scallops were off-loaded from the vessels in Atlantic City, N.J., to trucks used by Byers and D.C. Air & Seafood.
Byers admitted during the guilty plea proceeding that D.C. Air & Seafood and he conspired with the six boat operators to conceal the overharvesting of scallops by preparing fishing vessel trip reports – required to be submitted to NOAA – which falsely represented the amount of scallops harvested on certain vessel trips was 400 pounds or less.
As part of its plea agreement, D.C. Air & Seafood agrees to pay $520,371 in restitution to the United States – representing the loss to the government – and to be placed on probation for five years. During the probationary period, the company will be subject to the terms of an environmental compliance plan to ensure all purchases and sales of fish comply with federal law. The company has also agreed not to participate in the scallop industry during that time.
The charge to which Byers pleaded guilty carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for March 18, 2014.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Logan Gregory, with the investigation.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen P. O’Leary of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Health Care and Government Fraud Unit in Newark.
Defense counsel: William J. Hughes Esq., Atlantic City, N.J.