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Central Islip, N.Y. — A commercial fisherman from Long Island was sentenced last month in federal court to seven months in prison and ordered to pay over $600,000 in restitution for overharvesting summer flounder (fluke).
Anthony Joseph of Levittown (Nassau County) was sentenced in federal court for his role in “systematically underreporting fluke (summer flounder) that was being harvested as part of the federal Research Set-Aside (RSA) Program,” the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division announced.
In addition to the seven-month prison term, Joseph was ordered to pay $603,000 in restitution and also sentenced to three years of supervised release after his prison term.
Joseph, the former operator of the dragger F/V Stirs One, pleaded guilty on April 11 to one count of mail fraud, two counts of wire fraud and one count of falsification of federal records for knowingly submitting 158 falsified fishing logs, known as fishing vessel trip reports (FVTRs) and “aiding and abetting the submission of 167 falsified dealer reports from June 2009 through December 2011, as part of a scheme to defraud the United States of overharvested and underreported fluke,” Justice Department officials said in a news release.
Under National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) regulations, all of the Stirs One’s catch had to be reported to NOAA on FVTRs. From 2009-2011, the Stirs One principally targeted fluke.
Federal officials, however, said that while under Joseph’s captaincy and with his knowledge, the vessel “exceeded its relevant federal and New York state quotas for fluke for at least 158 trips.”
The overharvest totaled 302,000 pounds of fluke valued at approximately $626,000.
Officials said that Joseph, in order to cover up the illegal fluke harvesting, falsified the FVTRs he personally mailed to NOAA. He also utilized the exempted fisheries permit quota that was acquired through the federal RSA Program “as a mask for his fluke overages,” officials said.
According to court documents, Joseph characterized the RSA Program as “a license to steal” and remarked that during the period of 2009 to 2011 he referred to the Research Set-Aside Program with the nickname, “Research Steal-Aside.”
NOAA regulations also require the first purchasers of seafood – directly from the fishing vessel – to report their purchases to NOAA on an electronic form known as a dealer report. The dealer reports include information such as date of landing, port of landing, catch vessel, corresponding FVTR numbers, commercial grade, species, price and weight.
NOAA utilizes the data in the dealer reports to set quotas and implement other management measures designed to ensure a sustainable fisheries. The dealer reports also serve as a check on the information submitted in FVTRs.
“In other words, in order to effectuate his scheme, Joseph needed to ensure that corresponding false dealer reports were being submitted that contained the same false information as was contained on the falsified FVTRs. A mismatch would have indicated a serious error or fraud, and would have been a red flag for fisheries managers,” officials said in a news release.
From June 2009 to December 2011, officials said Joseph “schemed with two other fish dealers to submit false dealer reports in furtherance of the fraud. In doing so, the defendant aided and abetted previously convicted Alan Dresner and Jones Inlet Seafood Company in their Internet submission of a total of at least 167 false dealer reports from computers in New York to NOAA’s Regional Fisheries Office in Gloucester, Mass.”
The case was investigated by agents of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, with assistance from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Police.
The case was prosecuted by Christopher L. Hale of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section.