Thirteen commercial fishermen in North Carolina and Georgia have been charged in federal court in Raleigh for their role in the illegal harvest and sale and false reporting of approximately 90,000 pounds of Atlantic striped bass from federal waters off the coast of North Carolina during 2009 and 2010, according to the Justice Department.Commercial and recreational fishing for Striped Bass along the Atlantic Coast is legal within the State waters out to three miles under state laws, and illegal in the Federal Exlusive Economic Zone (EEZ) from three miles out to 200 miles.
The average retail value of the illegally harvested striped bass is approximately $1.1 million.
This investigation began as a result of the U.S. Coast Guard boarding of the fishing vessel Lady Samaira in February 2010, based on a complaint that multiple vessels were fishing Striped Bass illegally.
The individuals have been charged with violating the Lacey Act, which is a federal law that prohibits individuals from transporting, selling or buying fish and wildlife harvested illegally.
Additionally, 11 of these fishermen also have been charged with filing false reports in connection with the illegally harvested fish.
One of the fishermen is also charged with obstruction of a proceeding before a federal agency.
Specifically, the indictments allege that the commercial fishermen transported and sold Atlantic striped bass, knowing that they were unlawfully harvested from federal waters off the coast of North Carolina. In an effort to hide their illegal fishing activities, these fishermen falsely reported harvesting these fish from state waters, where it would have been legal.
While Stripped Bass are basically a coastal species (you won't find many out in the Gulf Stream or central gyre), they don't have a strict sense for the distance from the coast, and wander back and forth across the line following food and temperatures. The restriction from fishing for them in the EEZ is part of the federal plan for conservation of the species.
Being federal charges, these charges are likely to bring more serious penalties than the similarly sized Striped Bass poaching ring in Maryland, which recently resulted in jail time for two of the fishermen involved. But these are the same fish, part of a coast wide population.
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