Singaporean Shipping Company Fined $12m in a Multi-District Case for Concealing Illegal Discharges of Oily Water and Garbage and a Hazardous Condition
WILMINGTON – The United States Attorney’s Office announced that today in federal court, Bryan H. daniels, 54, of Belhaven, North Carolina, STEPHEN DANIELS, 63, of Wanchese, North Carolina, and JAMES K. LEWIS, 46, of Gloucester, North Carolina pled guilty to federal charges regarding the illegal harvest and sale of Atlantic striped bass from federal waters off the coast of North Carolina.
According to the Indictments and information in the public records, in February 2010, a Special Agent with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) received information that commercial trawlers were illegally fishing for Atlantic striped bass in federal waters off the coast of North Carolina. Since 1990, there has been a ban on the harvesting of Atlantic striped bass in the United States’ Exclusive Economic Zone (“EEZ”) which spans between 3 miles and 200 miles seaward of the U.S. Atlantic coastline.
Upon receiving the information, NOAA engaged the assistance of the U.S. Coast Guard. A single patrol vessel in the area intercepted one of 17 commercial trawlers in the EEZ, (the fishing vessel Lady Samaira) and boarded the vessel. At the time of the boarding, the Lady Samaira was captained by Defendant Ellis Leon Gibbs, Jr.
Given the other commercial trawlers in the same area, NOAA conducted an analysis of electronic data and written reports from those vessels. The electronic mail retrieved, which included captains sharing LORAN coordinates and Buoy Numbers where they successfully harvested Atlantic striped bass, combined with the vessel monitoring track lines, illustrated a concerted effort by various commercial fisherman to illegal target and harvest that species from the EEZ. The review also revealed multiple years of illegal harvests by commercial trawlers.
Based on its review, NOAA determined that between January 27, 2009, and February 2, 2010, BRYAN H. DANIELS, then Captain of the Joyce D, a commercial trawler, harvested approximately 8,625 pounds of Atlantic striped bass from the EEZ, which he sold to a fish dealer in Engelhard, North Carolina. The estimated fair market retail value of the 8,625 pounds of illegally harvested fish exceeds $68,000. BRYAN H. DANIELS submitted false statements for two of three fishing trips charged in the Indictment, and under penalty of perjury to NOAA, claimed he caught the fish in state waters.
Based on this same review, NOAA determined that between January 27, 2010, and February 9, 2010, STEPHEN DANIELS, then Captain of the Bailey Boy, a commercial trawler, harvested approximately 11,843 pounds of Atlantic striped bass from the EEZ, which he sold to a fish dealer in Wanchese, North Carolina. The estimated fair market retail value of the 11,843 pounds of illegally harvested fish exceeds $94,000. To further conceal his illegal activities, on at least two occasions, STEPHEN DANIELS, off-loaded 100 fish, then captained his vessel into inland waters, before returning a few hours later to off-load the remainder of the catch.
NOAA also determined that between January 19, 2009, and January 27, 2009, LEWIS, then the Captain of the fishing vessel Wonder Woman, harvested approximately 3,368 pounds of Atlantic Striped Bass from the EEZ, which he later sold to a seafood dealer in Engelhard, North Carolina. The investigation further revealed that between on or about January 27, 2010, and February 9, 2010, LEWIS, then the Captain of the fishing vessel Gulf Stream III, harvested at least an additional 5,025 pounds of Atlantic Striped Bass from the EEZ, which he later sold to a seafood dealer in Wanchese, North Carolina. Similar to STEPHEN DANIELS, to further conceal his illegal activities, on at least one occasion, LEWIS, off-loaded 100 fish, then captained his vessel into inland waters, before returning a few hours later to off-load the remainder of the catch. The estimated fair market retail value of the 8,393 pounds of illegally harvested fish exceeds $67,000.
During the winter 2010 Atlantic striped bass ocean trawl season, it is estimated that over 90,000 pounds of North Carolina’s 160,160 ocean trawl quota were taken illegally from the EEZ.
Eight other commercial fishermen previously entered guilty pleas for conduct uncovered by the same investigation. United States v. Dewey W. Willis, Jr., No. 2:15-CR-3-BO, United States v. James Ralph Craddock, No. 2:15-CR-7-BO, United States v. Joseph Howard Williams, No. 4:15-CR-2-BO; United States v. Ellis Leon Gibbs, Jr., No. 4:14-CR-9-BO, United States v. Dwayne J. Hopkins, 2:15-CR-8-BO; United States v. John Roberts¸ No. 4:15-CR-3-BO; United States v. David Saunders, Jr., No. 2:15-CR-2-B0; and United States v. Michael Potter, No. 2:15-CR-6-BO.
“These prosecutions make clear that efforts 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 John Stuart Bruce for the Eastern District of North Carolina. “We are pleased to partner with our colleagues in DOJ’s Environmental Crimes Section to prosecute these important cases.”
Manny Antonaras, Acting Assistant Director for NOAA’s Southeast Division’s Office of Law Enforcement stated, "NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement is committed to ensuring a level playing field for law abiding fishermen and coastal communities that rely upon our nation’s living marine resources. When people cheat the system, it hurts those who follow the rules the most."
A sentencing hearing will be set at a later date. All three defendants face a maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment and/or a $250,000 fine.
The investigation was conducted by the Law Enforcement Offices of NOAA, with assistance of the Investigative Service from the U.S. Coast Guard, the North Carolina Marine Patrol, and the Virginia Marine Police. This case is being prosecuted by Senior Litigation Counsel Banumathi Rangarajan of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina, and Trial Attorneys Shennie Patel and Shane Waller of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section.