(CN) - Thirteen commercial fisherman in North Carolina and Georgia have been charged with illegally harvesting and selling 90,000 pounds of Atlantic striped bass from federal waters, the Justice Department announced.
The alleged illegal harvests occurred in 2009 and 2010 and had an estimated retail value of 41/1 million.
Prosecutors said the 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.
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 are alleged to have falsely reported harvesting these fish from state waters, where it would have been legal.
Additionally, 11 of the fishermen 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.
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 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.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.