NMFS Northeast Region
N E W SGloucester, Mass. -- NOAA enforcement attorneys are seeking $70,000 in fines and a one-year and three-month suspension of federal fishing rights from a Montauk man for multiple violations of federal fishing rules.
George M. Miller, owner and operator of the fishing vessel Chrissy K, is alleged in the six-count notice to have falsified or otherwise compromised information on required trip reports, to have made false statements to investigators, and to have asked a fish dealer to destroy evidence of his violations.
"This vessel is a small part of a larger problem uncovered in Fulton Fish Market and elsewhere," says Mitch MacDonald, NOAA enforcement attorney. "These violations slow down rebuilding of fish stocks," he says, "that hurts everybody, especially those who are fishing legally."
Miller's alleged violations involve summer flounder, and, in some cases, other species as well. The rules violated are intended to monitor landings against annual quotas, to assure accurate information on which to base fishery management decisions, and to provide accurate information on the economic importance of the U.S. seafood business.
The false statements are alleged to have occurred when NOAA Fisheries special agents interviewed Miller about his activities. Interference in the investigation is alleged to have occurred when, after one such interview, Miller phoned Robert Valenti, owner of Multi- Aquaculture, a fish dealer operating at the Fulton Fish Market in New York City. Miller allegedly told Valenti of the ongoing investigation, and asked Valenti to destroy any documentation of his sales to the company. Charges against Valenti and Multi-Aquaculture are pending further review by the NOAA.
Some of Miller's alleged illegal activities are related to the investigation of Joseph H. Carter, Inc., another major seafood dealer operating from Fulton Fish Market. As a result of that investigation, Carter has been charged with large-scale non-reporting and with submitting false reports and is facing potential $1.72 million civil penalty and five-year ban on purchasing federally regulated species. Carter is alleged to have failed to report, or to have falsely reported landings of fish caught in federal fisheries, including purchases of a significant portion of the summer flounder quota allocated to the State of New York.
Miller is the third fishing vessel owner/operator (and the first from New York) who sold fish to Carter to be charged with submitting false reports.
The two other owner/operators charged to date were from Gloucester, Massachusetts. Emilio Spinola of the fishing vessel St. Mary and Carlo Moceri of the fishing vessel Morning Star were charged previously, admitted the violations, were forced to sell their vessels, paid civil penalties, and were permanently removed from commercial fishing.
The investigation of Carter also uncovered alleged violations by another Fulton Fish Market dealer, Pickle Barrel Seafood, Inc. Pickle Barrel is facing $80,000 in civil penalties for purchasing federally regulated species without a federal permit, purchasing from a vessel that was unpermitted, and failing to report those purchases. Another fish dealer from a different region, and up to seven additional New York vessels are expected to be charged in the near future.
These violations are civil matters, not criminal, and a subsequent hearing would be before an administrative law judge. That judge's decision may be appealed to the NOAA Administrator and through the federal court system. If the administrative law judge finds for the government, he or she may also determine a civil penalty up to a maximum of $110,000 for each count charged and may sanction the vessel and operator permits, including permanently revoking them.