N.C. Man Pleads Guilty to Illegal Bass Fishing

     (CN) – A North Carolina fisherman pleaded guilty Monday to the illegal harvest and sale of Atlantic striped bass in federal waters in 2010.
     The Justice Department said the charges against Dewey Willis Jr. of Newport, N.C., stemmed from an multi-defendant investigation involving 13 other commercial fishermen.
     As described in a written notice of Willis’s pleas, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration received a tip regarding the fishermen’s alleged illegal activities involving striped bass, and directed the U.S. Coast Guard to board the fishing vessel Lady Samaira in February 2010.
     Willis and the other fishermen onboard were charged with violating the Lacey Act, a federal law that prohibits individuals from transporting, selling or buying fish and wildlife harvested illegally.
     Additionally, Willis, along with 11 of these fishermen, also has been charged with filing false reports in connection with the illegally harvested fish.
     Willis’s indictment said he 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 his illegal fishing activities, Willis, falsely reported harvesting these fish from state waters, where it would have been legal, the government said.
     Now that he was entered a guilty plea, Willis faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
     A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 12.
     Under federal law, Atlantic striped bass may not be harvested from or possessed in federal waters. This ban on fishing for Atlantic striped bass in federal waters has been in place since 1990 due to drastic declines of the stock that occurred in the 1970’s.
     North Carolina allows fishermen to harvest fish from state waters, but often limits fishermen to no more than 100 fish per fishing trip.
     Commercial fishermen are required to report on a fishing vessel trip report the fish harvested from state waters; that report is then submitted to NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. NOAA uses the information on this report to assess the fishery and its sustainability throughout the eastern seaboard.

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