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Press Release

Commercial Fisherman Sentenced for Illegally Harvesting and Selling Oysters

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

NORFOLK, Va. – A Tangier Island man was sentenced today to one year in prison for violating the Lacey Act by harvesting oysters from the Chesapeake Bay in excess of Virginia limits and transporting them to Maryland for sale.

“The oyster is a species integral to both the ecosystem and the economy of Virginia and the greater Chesapeake Bay region,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “In choosing to disregard regulations established with a conscious eye towards preserving a population that has seen significant decline, Parks’ conduct threatened to impact not just the efforts to protect that resource, but also people whose livelihoods are connected to the oyster fishery.”

According to court documents, Gregory Wheatley Parks Jr., 44, was the captain of the fishing vessel Melissa Hope. He was aware of the limits set on oyster harvesting, as well as his obligation to accurately report the quantity of oysters harvested to Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC). On seven separate dates between January 2015 and March 2015, Parks harvested oysters in excess of the Virginia daily catch limit.  He transported those oysters to a fish dealer in Maryland, where he sold them. For each of these trips, Parks falsely reported to the VMRC that he had harvested a legal quantity of oysters. Parks pleaded guilty to one count of Trafficking under the Lacey Act, a federal law that prohibits individuals from transporting, selling or buying fish and wildlife harvested illegally.

“The overharvesting of oysters hurts efforts to restore the species’ population after significant decline, harming both the environment and the law-abiding watermen who choose to follow the rules rather than gain an unfair advantage,” said Jeffrey Bossert Clark, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Today’s sentence demonstrates that people who choose to illegally exploit this valuable resource for personal gain will face the criminal law consequences Congress has ordained.”

The oyster (Crassotrea virginica) is a keystone species in the Chesapeake Bay due to its ability to build reefs that serve as a habitat for numerous fish species. Oysters also improve the Bay’s water quality through filtration. Virginia limits the daily harvest of oysters to eight bushels per registered commercial fisherman for the purpose of conserving the state’s oyster resources. It also requires commercial fishermen to submit daily harvest records to the VMRC that report the amount of oysters harvested.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement proudly protects our nation's wildlife and wild places for the continuing benefit of the American people,” said Edward Grace, Assistant Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement. “Overharvest of aquatic ecosystems is a serious crime that hurts native species, local communities and the economy. By complying with laws that protect wildlife, the American public can help conserve our nation's natural resources for generations to come.”

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Jeffrey Bossert Clark, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, and Edward Grace, Acting Assistant Director of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, made the announcement after sentencing by Senior U.S. District Judge Henry Coke Morgan, Jr. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph L. Kosky and Trial Attorney Lauren D. Steele of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section prosecuted the case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 2:19-cr-14.


Joshua Stueve
Director of Public Affairs

Updated August 22, 2019