‘NOAA relies upon accurate reports to set polices designed to ensure sustainable fishery’

Fishermen indicted in federal court for alleged fraud, violation of herring laws

Wed, 02/02/2022 - 8:00am

    PORTLAND — Five Maine fishermen  and one fisherman from New Hampshire, along with a corporation, were charged with conspiracy, mail fraud, and obstruction of justice in connection with a multi-year scheme to sell unreported Atlantic herring and falsify fishing records, U.S. Attorney Darcie N. McElwee announced in a news release. An indictment was filed January 27 in U.S. District Court.

    Glenn Robbins, 75, of Eliot; Ethan Chase, 44, of Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Neil Herrick, 46, of Rockland; Andrew Banow, 35, of Rockport; Stephen Little, 56, of Warren; Jason Parent, 49, of Owls Head; and Western Sea, Inc., were named in a 35-count indictment returned Jan. 28.

    Robbins is the owner and one of the captains of the Western Sea, a 99-foot purse seiner, and a federally permitted Atlantic fishing herring vessel moored in Rockland, according to the indictment.

    Atlantic herring is defined as a small schooling fish that serves as a primary bait for Maine’s lobster industry.

    Chase operated Robbins’ vessel as a part-time captain. Herrick, Banow, Little and Parent were identified as crew members on the Western Sea in the indictment.

    According to the indictment, between June 2016 and September 2019, the owner, captains, and crew aboard the fishing vessel Western Sea sold more than 2.6 million pounds of Atlantic herring that was not reported to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

    The Western Sea also engaged in more than 80 fishing trips for Atlantic herring, the court document said.

    The indictment alleges that members of the crew were paid directly by fish dealers and lobster vessel operators for the unreported herring.

    The five seafood dealers, who purchased the catch, were identified only as Dealers A, B, C, D, and E in the indictment.

    NOAA relies upon accurate reports to set polices designed to ensure a sustainable fishery, requires all dealers to submit, on a weekly basis, electronic dealer reports detailing information about the fish purchased, the federal agency said.

    Robbins, other captains, and crew landed and sold substantially more herring than was reported and falsified records, according to the indictment.

    “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,” said Director James Landon, NOAA Office of Law Enforcement, in the release. “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.”

    NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement and the Maine Marine Patrol investigated the case.

    The Maine Marine Patrol also issued citations to Robbins, Chase and Dustin Reed, an owner and wholesaler seafood dealer of New Moon Fisheries, for violating laws designed to protect the Atlantic herring fishery, which has faced serious quota reductions in recent years, according to a statement on its website.

    Maine herring regulations require harvester vessels to send an email to the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) three hours prior to landing with information regarding the harvester, vessel and total catch.

    Robbins has been charged with exceeding the weekly limit of 160,000 pounds of herring, and with failing to file accurate reports of his harvest and to properly notify DMR on two occasions. 

    Chase was cited for failing to properly notify DMR prior to landing and for exceeding the weekly harvest limit in September by over 110,000 pounds of herring, all of which was seized by Maine Marine Patrol.

    Reed was charged with failure to report herring he purchased and failure to hold a permit to buy and sell herring.

    The charges against Robbins, Chase and Reed could result in fines of $100 per violation. However, while the civil fines are limited under law, the Commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources has the authority to suspend harvester and dealer licenses for failure to comply with reporting requirements and for exceeding landings limits. 

    “These violations are nothing short of a blatant disregard of the rules that protect Atlantic herring,” said Commissioner Patrick Keliher, in its own news release. “Mr. Robbins has attended many herring management meetings over the years to speak to the need to protect this industry from overfishing. His actions and those of his crew are directly counter to his publicly stated positions this is disappointing to say the least.” 

    "At a time when regulators have drastically reduced harvest limits to address declining Atlantic herring recruitment, this is an especially egregious violation," said Marine Patrol Colonel Jay Carroll.

    “The charges are the result of a significant investigation by Maine Marine Patrol with support from the Maine State Police to uncover violations that cheat other harvesters and dealers who comply with quota and reporting requirements,” Carroll said. “By violating quota limits and reporting requirements, these violations also undermine efforts designed to re-build this critically important stock.”

    The defendants have not yet made their initial appearances in court.

    Reach Sarah Shepherd at news@penbaypilot.com