Illegal sales of rockfish bring a scolding from judge, plus home detention

November 21, 1992|By Norris P. West and Michael James | Norris P. West and Michael James,Staff Writers

U.S. District Judge Frederic N. Smalkin chided a Charles County man for endangering a natural resource before sentencing him yesterday to four months of home detention for illegally selling rockfish.

"We're dealing with a resource that is a scarce, limited resource, and this kind of commercial harvesting has got to be stopped," Judge Smalkin told Edmond Pruitt, 49, of Indian Head.

Mr. Pruitt had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of conspiracy to illegally sell striped bass, which are commonly called rockfish.

A Virginia man who remains a fugitive was indicted along with Mr. Pruitt.

Judge Smalkin also ordered Mr. Pruitt to serve a 20-month probation and to pay a $5,000 fine.

Mr. Pruitt and Jerry Lawrence Elliott of Montross, Va., were indicted June 17 by a federal grand jury on charges of catching rockfish out of season, without proper documentation and in amounts exceeding Maryland and Virginia limits. The fish are regulated to protect the species.

Authorities said the two men caught several tons of the fish from the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River, and sold the fish to wholesale seafood establishments for a 2 1/2 -year period beginning in October 1990.

Assistant U.S. Attorney W. Warren Hamel said the illegal harvesting of rockfish is "the most dangerous kind of criminal activity that affects the species."

He said federal authorities continue to search for Mr. Elliott, who failed to appear at his initial court hearing following the indictment, and since has been considered a fugitive.

Maryland Natural Resources police discovered the rockfish violations after setting up shop in St. Mary's County with an operation that posed as a wholesale seafood operation. Police were looking for illegally caught fish, shellfish and game.

Undercover police bought more than 3 tons of illegal rockfish from Mr. Elliott and Mr. Pruitt. They seized 2 tons of the fish in the last leg of the investigation. The food was donated to Baltimore-area soup kitchens.

The case was also investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Virginia Marine Resource Commission.

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