Dewey W. Willis Jr. of Newport, North Carolina, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, North Carolina, to federal charges regarding the illegal harvest and sale of Atlantic striped bass from federal waters off the coast of North Carolina during 2010, the Justice Department announced on Monday, September 26, 2016.
The defendant faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 12. Willis was accused along with 12 other commercial fishermen of illegally harvesting and selling about 90,000 pounds of striped bass with an estimated retail value of $1.1 million.
This multi-defendant investigation began as a result of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) receiving intelligence and directing the U.S. Coast Guard to board the fishing vessel Lady Samaira in February 2010, based on a complaint that multiple vessels were fishing Striped Bass illegally. Willis was 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. Specifically, the indictment against Willis alleges that the 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 illegal poaching of striped bass by commercial fishermen has a major impact on the survival of this iconic fish resource and has the potential to devastate the future livelihoods of law abiding commercial fishermen,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Today’s plea agreement demonstrates the department’s dedication to pursuing those who fail to respect the law and fail to adequately monitor their harvest to stay within legal limits.”
“Our office was pleased to partner with the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice in this significant case,” said U.S. Attorney John Stuart Bruce for the Eastern District of North Carolina. “This prosecution makes clear that efforts to circumvent laws regulating commercial fishing will be enforced vigorously.”