A federal grand jury has indicted five Maine fishermen and one from New Hampshire on conspiracy, mail fraud and obstruction of justice charges in a “multi-year scheme” to sell “unreported Atlantic herring and falsify fishing records,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Maine.

The 35-count indictment says the owner, captains and crew of the fishing vessel Western Sea “sold more than 2.6 million pounds of Atlantic herring” from 2016 to 2019 that was not reported to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. The indictment lists more than $460,000 in payments for unreported herring caught in about 80 fishing trips.

“NOAA relies upon accurate reports to set policies designed to ensure a sustainable fishery. The indictment alleges that members of the crew were paid directly by fish dealers and lobster vessel operators for the unreported herring,” according to the news release.

Atlantic herring constitutes a major fishery on the East Coast that has faced tighter regulations in recent years because of concerns about overfishing. Atlantic herring are used both as bait and food.

Indicted were Glenn Robbins, 75, of Eliot, one of the Western Sea’s captains; Ethan Chase, 44, of Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Neil Herrick, 46, of Rockland; Andrew Banow, 35, of Rockport; Stephen Little, 56, of Warren, and Jason Parent, 49, of Owls Head. Western Sea Inc. was also indicted.

Edward MacColl, a Portland attorney representing Robbins, Chase and Western Sea Inc., said Friday that his clients cooperated with the government’s investigation and were trying to comply with “an incredibly complex set of regulations” governing the fishing industry.

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“My clients did their best to comply with the regulations,” said MacColl, who declined to go into further details.

The “type of unscrupulous and unlawful fishing alleged in the indictment returned by the grand jury directly affects the economic benefit of law-abiding fishermen and fishing communities,” James Landon, director of NOAA’s law enforcement office, said in a statement released Friday. “We will continue to help bring to justice those who are proven to have violated U.S. fishing laws and regulations, to help ensure the sustainability of our living marine resources while also maximizing economic benefit.”

The defendants “falsified FVTRs (fishing vessel trip reports) and failed to report all sales of Atlantic herring. In the course of the scheme, these false FVTRs were mailed to NOAA,” according to the indictment filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Portland. The Western Sea “landed substantially more herring than what was reported” to NOAA, the indictment says.

Fishermen in charge of the fishing boats must submit catch reports to NOAA at the end of each trip, and fish dealers must also submit weekly reports to NOAA to detail how much fish they are purchasing and where it was caught.


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