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Press Release

Tangier Oysterman Pleads Guilty to Over Harvesting Oysters

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

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

“The protection of our environmental harvest is one of the responsibilities shared by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “As stewards of the environment, we must endeavor to ensure that everyone adheres to the principle of fair and sustainable use of these natural resources, lest they be destroyed for future generations. Individuals who skirt this responsibility and harvest oysters beyond established limits deplete our resources, degrade our environment, and cheat those honest oystermen who uphold the law. As an avid fisherman myself, I have personally observed baymen and women to be some of the hardest working individuals I have ever met; braving the elements and engaging in dawn to dusk back breaking work to provide for their families. In order to protect their way of life and the resources we all depend on, we must enforce these harvest limits and regulations or we will lose the entire fishery.”

According to court documents, Gregory Wheatley Parks, Jr., 43, was a commercial oysterman operating the F/V Melissa Hope, a fishing vessel out of Tangier Island. Parks harvested oysters out of Virginia waters in the Chesapeake Bay. As a properly licensed oysterman, Parks was aware that Virginia sets strict limits on the number of oyster bushels that an oysterman can harvest per day. Nevertheless, on numerous dates in 2015, Parks collectively harvested at least 38 bushels above the Virginia limit and transported them to Maryland for sale.

“The native American wild oyster population is a keystone species responsible for maintaining the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem,” said Jeff Odom, Assistant Special Agent in Charge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “This investigation focused on the most egregious of those commercial harvesters attempting to circumvent the law and should serve as notice that the USFWS will be vigilant in protecting our natural resources.”

Court records further state that Parks was required to accurately report to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) the number of oyster bushels he landed. On several instances, Parks filed false reports to the VMRC, underreporting the number of oyster bushels he landed. Parks has a long history of wildlife violations related to oyster harvesting. Dating back to 2008, Parks has been cited on numerous occasions for possession of oysters over the legal limit, taking oysters from polluted grounds, taking oysters out of season, and larceny of oysters from bedded grounds.

Parks pleaded guilty to one violation of the Lacey Act and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison when sentenced on August 22. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Edward Grace, Acting Assistant Director of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, made the announcement after the plea was accepted by Senior U.S. District Judge Henry Coke Morgan, Jr. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph L. Kosky and Trial Attorney Laura 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.


Contact: Joshua Stueve
Director of Communications

Updated April 25, 2019