Fishermen Lose Fishing
Rights; Must Pay
Fine, Sell Boat
NMFS Northeast Region
N E W SGloucester, Mass., -- A settlement has been reached in a closely watched federal fishery violation case involving illegal groundfish gear. The terms force sale of the fishing vessel Lisbon, a New Bedford-based trawler, levy fines, and prevent its owner, master, and mate from almost all fishing in federal waters for four years.
"All of us who have worked to recover groundfish, and especially the fishing industry, were looking for a strong statement from the court and I think we got it," said Patricia Kurkul, NOAA Fisheries Regional Administrator for the Northeast. "Gear that kills juvenile fish was used. In addition to sacrificing future spawners, this also passes on the cost of continued groundfish depletion to those abiding by the rules," said Kurkul.
The sanctions approved in the case are the strongest ever issued in a federal fishery violation matter involving illegal gear that restricts escapement.
A hearing was held in early February before Judge Peter Fitzpatrick, an administrative law judge. In statements from the bench, Fitzpatrick said he found the testimony of fishermen who had served on the New England Fishery Management Council "powerful," and "one of the first times that I have heard other fishermen actually involved in the fishery proposing or seeking such strong sanctions."
The owner and operators were charged with illegally modifying their groundfishing gear to prevent fish from escaping the net. Legal gear has an opening that allows smaller, juvenile fish to escape. The gear in use aboard the F/V Lisbon was rigged with a line that cinched the opening closed, and that could be quickly removed from the gear in the event that enforcement authorities approached the vessel.
In 1998, intelligence provided by NOAA Fisheries special agents led to a dramatic surprise boarding of the F/V Lisbon at sea by U.S. Coast Guardsmen from the Cutter Grande Isle. At the time of the boarding, the gear was in use, resulting in testimony and physical evidence needed to make the case.
"We continue to focus our efforts on people who intentionally violate fishing rules, and use of illegal gear is one of the most difficult violations to uncover," says Richard Livingston, Special Agent-in-Charge of NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement, Northeast Region. "We must show that the gear is illegal and observe the vessel using the gear. This case was built with thorough and extraordinary investigative and field work by NOAA Fisheries special agents and the U.S. Coast Guard, which produced a strong case."
In reaching the settlement, Boat Lisbon, Inc. and owner Manuel J. Escobar, skipper Aderito F. DaSilva, and mate Joaquim T. Marques, admitted that they intentionally fished with illegal gear and possessed undersized yellowtail flounder. Escobar agreed to sell the vessel and may not participate in any federal fisheries for four years. DaSilva will pay a $7,500 fine and may not obtain a state or federal fisheries permit for four years (except in the surfclam and ocean quahog fishery). Marques is banned from all state and federal commercial fisheries for four years.
The catch from the trip on which the gear was seized was sold for nearly $9,000. These funds, the fines, and proceeds from sale of the vessel will be retained by the government and used to enforce rules intended to protect and recover marine resources.