|NOAA SERO 99-69
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Chris Smith
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has charged the owners and operators of 25 commercial fishing vessels with 75 counts of Magnuson-Stevens Act violations that undermine rules designed to protect and conserve the Gulf of Mexico's severely overfished red snapper resources. These owners and operators allegedly participated in a fraudulent scheme to market fresh red snapper despite the fact that the commercial fishery was closed and then falsified or failed to submit required vessel logbooks to conceal their unlawful activity.
"All Gulf of Mexico fishermen are under restrictive management measures to reduce overfishing of red snapper," said Bill Hogarth, administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service's southeast region. "Illegal activities like these, if unchecked, make a mockery of the sacrifices honest fishermen make to rebuild the red snapper fishery."
NOAA has assessed civil fines collectively totaling $433,485, and is seeking suspension of vessel permits for an aggregate of 1,965 days. The owners and operators have 30 days from the date NOAA Fisheries agents serve them with Notices of Violation and Assessment and Notices of Permit Sanction to contest the charges. Allen C. Williams, Jr. and Allen C. Williams Seafood Company, Inc., the seafood dealer who purchased the red snapper from these fishermen, and A. C. Williams Corporation, Inc., owner of five other supplying vessels, previously agreed to pay $800,000 in penalties for their participation in the scheme.
During the scheme, approximately 35,000 pounds of red snapper from 375 trips were sold after the 1996-1997 commercial season closed. Those fish were either falsely reported as vermillion snapper or not reported at all. Falsified logbooks and unreported landings severely skew critical data upon which NOAA relies and undermines NOAA Fisheries' efforts to sustain the nation's marine resources. According to NOAA officials, the extent of these violations is unprecedented in the Southeast region.
Most of the vessels are home ported in or near Pensacola and owned and operated by people from the Pensacola metropolitan area. The proposed assessments against the vessel owners and operators, jointly and severally, are:
Special Agent Allan Coker of NOAA's Southeast Enforcement Division thoroughly investigated all leads and gathered the necessary evidence supporting the charges in the NOVAs and NOPSs. NOAA Fisheries Enforcement, its state law enforcement partners, and the Coast Guard will aggressively continue their cooperative efforts to enforce fisheries laws and regulations so that law-abiding fishermen are not disadvantaged and the resources are preserved.
NOAA Fisheries urges citizens to report fishery violations during weekly business hours of 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 a.m. Eastern, to its Southeast Region Law Enforcement Division at (727) 570-5344, or after hours and weekends at its National Enforcement Hotline at (800) 853-1964.
This and other Southeast Regional news releases and fishery bulletins are available on the region's Internet home page: http://caldera.sero.nmfs.gov or NOAA's Internet home page, http://www.noaa.gov/public-affairs/press99.html.
The National Marine Fisheries Service is the principal steward of the nation's living marine resources, regulating the nation's commercial and recreational fisheries and managing species under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act throughout federal waters which extend 200 miles from the coastline. An agency of the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA Fisheries also protects marine and anadromous species under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.