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Press Release

Captain Pleads Guilty to Obstructing Coast Guard Investigation

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of North Carolina

GREENVILLE – United States Attorney Robert J. Higdon, Jr. announced that in federal court, before United States District Judge James C. Dever III, WILLIAM JUEL, 51, of Little River, South Carolina entered a guilty plea to obstructing a Coast Guard investigation at sea in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 2232 and 2.

According to information in the public record, JUEL was the Captain of the commercial fishing vessel Island Runner.  On November 30, 2017, while on routine partrol, the United States Coast Guard Cutter Cormorant approached the Island Runner in federal waters to conduct a boarding.   As the Cormorant approached the Island Runner, Coast Guard servicemembers observed and videotaped JUEL and his mate throwing fish overboard.  Further investigation revealed that JUEL illegally harvested the fish and was discarding the fish in order to prevent the Coast Guard from seizing the catch.  The illegally harvested fish, which had also been gutted, included primarly Snowy Grouper as well as small amounts of Yellow Edge Grouper, Wreckfish and Amberjack.   Five months before the boarding, on June 22, 2017, NOAA Fisheries imposed a commercial closure on the harvest of Snowy Grouper because the quota had been reached for the year.  JUEL was aware of the closure at the time of the offense.

“This prosecution make clear that efforts to obstruct investigations and to circumvent laws regulating commercial fishing -- which are implemented to sustain the species for the benefit of future generations – will be enforced vigorously,” said U.S. Attorney Robert J. Higdon, Jr.

“The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Cormorant partnered closely with the Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Law Enforcement (NOAA LE) on this case.” said Captain John Reed, Commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector Charleston. “This case highlights the Coast Guard’s continued commitment to, and the value of, at-sea enforcement of fisheries regulations, in order to preserve our vital marine resources.  Our cutters work to ensure a level playing field for all, as the majority of fishermen abide by the regulations and expect that their competitors will as well.”

A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for the Court’s October 21, 2019, term of court.  JUEL faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years supervised release.

Investigation of this case was conducted by Coast Guard Investigative Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration – Office of Law Enforcement.  Assistant United States Attorney Banumathi Rangarajan is  representing the government. 

Updated July 23, 2019