Seafood Company And Owner Sentenced For False Records Conspiracy, Overharvesting Sea Scallops Off Atlantic Coast
Company owner sentenced to 30 months in prison
NEWARK, N.J. – The owner of a Maine seafood company was sentenced to 30 months in prison today for his role in concealing 79,666 pounds of Atlantic sea scallops harvested off the coast of New Jersey and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
The owner of D.C. Air & Seafood, Christopher Byers, 42, of Winter Harbor, Maine, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge William H. Walls to an information charging him with conspiring with his company and six fishing boat operators to prepare false reports to conceal the overharvesting. Judge Walls imposed the sentence today 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, a seafood wholesaler, 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. That 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 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, New Jersey, to trucks used by Byers and D.C. Air & Seafood.
Byers admitted during his guilty plea that he, D.C. Air & Seafood and the six boat operators conspired 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 agreed to pay $520,371 in restitution to the United States – representing the value of the sea scallops – 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 agreed not to participate in the scallop industry during that time.
In addition to the prison term, Judge Walls sentenced Byers to three years of supervised release and ordered him to pay restitution in the amount of $520,371.
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.
14-308Defense counsel: William J. Hughes Esq., Atlantic City, N.J.