On March 7, five individuals charged with a multi-year scheme of selling unreported herring and forging fishing records began trial in the U.S. District Court in Portland, Maine. According to The Courier-Gazette, the trial is expected to last at least nine days.

The five defendants who pleaded not guilty are Glenn Robbins of Eliot, Maine; Neil Herrick of Rockland, Maine; Stephen Little of Warren, Maine; Ethan Chase of Portsmouth, N.H., and Jason Parent of Owls Head, Maine and Western Sea Inc. Some additional defendants previously pleaded guilty. 

The fishermen and seafood companies were charged with conspiracy, mail fraud, and obstruction of justice in connection with the multi-year scheme, according to the Penobscot Bay Pilot. The indictment was originally filed on Jan. 27, 2022.

According to the court document, Robbins owned the F/V Western Sea – a well-known Maine herring seiner – and the vessel that engaged in more than 80 fishing trips for herring. Duston Reed of Waldoboro and New Moon Fisheries waived indictment on Dec. 27. Sam Olson of Cushing pleaded guilty on Oct. 17 to one count of unlawfully purchasing fish through interstate commerce. Andrew Banow of Rockport pleaded guilty in November 2022 to conspiracy to commit an offense against NOAA and defrauding the IRS. Finally, Glenn Lawerence of Owls Head pleaded guilty to one count of unlawfully purchasing fish through interstate commerce. 

The herring regulations in the state of Maine require vessels to send an email to the Maine Department of Marine Resources three hours before landing with information regarding harvester, vessel, and total catch.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office paperwork states that between June 2016 through September 2019, the Western Sea under-reported the number of fish that were caught. The crew then sold to fish buyers who also underreported how much they had received, and then were paid in cash for fish caught above what was legally caught.

“This 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,” director James Landon of NOAA Office of Law Enforcement stated in a 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 this case. The maximum sentence is five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 and twice the gross gain from the scheme if the defendants are convicted. 

This article will be continuously updated as news becomes available.

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Carli is a Content Specialist for National Fisherman. She comes from a fourth-generation fishing family off the coast of Maine. Her background consists of growing her own business within the marine community. She resides on one of the islands off the coast of Maine while also supporting the lobster community she grew up in.

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