Guilty plea for fish dealer on excessive harvesting

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

fluke (summer flounder), scup and black sea bass were involved
fluke (summer flounder), scup and black sea bass were involved

Related tags: Fraud

A US fish market dealer and its president have pleaded guilty to fraud and falsifying federal records.

Lou’s Fish Market Inc, a federally-licensed fish dealer in the Bronx, New York, and its company president, Mark Parente, of Englishtown, New Jersey, pleaded guilty in federal court in New York.

Charges stemmed from covering up purchases of illegal fluke (summer flounder), scup and black sea bass that were being harvested in violation of the federal Research Set-Aside (RSA) Program, according to the Justice Department’s (DOJ) Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Guilty pleas

Parente pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud, one of aiding and abetting mail fraud and one of falsification of federal records for fraud schemes that ran from May through December 2011.

Lou’s Fish Market Inc. pleaded guilty to the falsification of federal records charge and one count of Lacey Act False Labeling for the knowing use of false documents in connection with 70,000 pounds of fluke that was shipped to interstate customers.

As part of the plea deal, the two defendants will pay $932,000. They also agreed to make an $110,000 community service payment to enhance seagrass and fluke habitat around Long Island.

The fraud involved two Long Island trawlers, one in southern Nassau County and another in northern Suffolk County.  They used the RSA Program as a mask for unlawful quota overages.  

To conceal the fishermen’s illicit catch, Parente directed unwitting company personnel to prepare and file at least 78 false dealer reports to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which omitted or misidentified 203,000 pounds of fluke, 50,000 pounds of scup and 12,000 pounds of black sea bass.  

The wholesale value of the fish was put at $481,000, according to DOJ.

Excessive fish harvesting

John Cruden, Assistant Attorney General, said the department will vigorously prosecute those who jeopardize fisheries by providing a market for illegally caught fish.  

“In this case, the crime is all the more aggravated because the participants took advantage of a federal program designed to study fish populations and enable law-abiding fishermen to increase their catch.”

Lou’s Fish Market agreed to increased recordkeeping and auditing requirements. 

The court will hear sentencing recommendations regarding non-agreed terms at a hearing in December.

Eileen Sobeck, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries, said protecting honest fishermen is a top priority for NOAA. 

“Egregious acts that undermine the sustainable management of our fisheries resources and steal from those in the industry who follow the rules will not be tolerated.” ​ 

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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