Two Special Agents from NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement spent more than 15,000 hours investigating an illegal fishing scheme that was operating off of the coast of North Carolina. Thirty co-conspirators were part of the illicit activity, but only 12 subjects were charged and sentenced in connection to this case, which saw 52 charges in 13 indictments.

The 12 subjects that were prosecuted for illegally harvesting 31,306 pounds of Atlantic striped bass in 2009 and 102,296 pounds in 2010. The annual trawl quota for North Carolina is only 160,160 pounds, which means the illegal harvesting of this species reduced the quota available to be caught by honest fishermen.

The sentencing of the 12 subjects collectively resulted in:

  1. The forfeiture of four vessels. The U.S. Attorney’s Office initially sought forfeiture of 7 vessels. Ultimately, 4 were forfeited and substitute assets in the amount of $124,000 were collected and paid to the U.S. Marshals Service.
  2. Restitution amounting to $1.23 million. The most egregious conspirator was ordered to pay $653,795. All restitution was paid to the U.S. Treasury.
  3. Probation from fisheries activities for a total of 38.5 years. The average probation sentence was 3 years. The maximum sentence was 5 years.
  4. 850 hours of community service. Seven of the 12 conspirators received community service, while three were individually sentenced to 6 months of home confinement.

Federal waters are defined as the water between 3 and 200 miles from shore, and designated as the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ.) In 1990, it was made unlawful for any person to do any of the following:

  1. Fish for Atlantic striped bass in the EEZ.
  2. Harvest any Atlantic striped bass from the EEZ.
  3. Possess any Atlantic striped bass in or from the EEZ, except in the following area: The EEZ within Block Island Sound, north of a line connecting Montauk Light, Montauk Point, NY, and Block Island Southeast Light, Block Island, RI; and west of a line connecting Point Judith Light, Point Judith, RI, and Block Island Southeast Light, Block Island, RI. Within this area, possession of Atlantic striped bass is permitted, provided no fishing takes place from the vessel while in the EEZ and the vessel is in continuous transit.