Va. Bay Poacher Gets Prison

Sting Also Nets Md. Waterman And Fish Wholesaler As Chesapeake Bay's Largest Striped Bass Poaching Case Widens

April 23, 2009|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,candy.thomson@baltsun.com

GREENBELT - A Virginia waterman was sentenced in U.S. District Court on Wednesday to one year and one day in prison, was fined $4,000 and was ordered to make $40,000 in restitution for his part in the largest striped bass poaching case in the history of the Chesapeake Bay.

Meanwhile, the sting operation widened as federal prosecutors charged a St. Mary's County waterman and fish wholesaler and his business with falsifying catch records and illegally selling fish to buyers from New York to California. Golden Eye Seafood and owner Robert Lumpkins were charged with four violations of the Lacey Act, which prohibits the sale of illegally caught fish across state lines.

Prosecutors charged another waterman, John Struven Evans, 44, of Mechanicsville, with falsifying his catch records with the help of Golden Eye to receive additional tags used to mark each commercially caught fish.

With family and friends watching, Thomas Hallock, 48, of Catharpin, Va., was ordered by Judge Peter J. Messitte to surrender to marshals May 22 to begin serving his sentence. One month after his release, Hallock will be required to pay $300 a month for 36 months, after which the court will work out the terms for the rest of his restitution.

Hallock admitted that over four years he poached more than 68,442 pounds of striped bass, also known as rockfish, and that 10,474 pounds were taken out of season during a period when the fish spawn. He sold his catch to Golden Eye Seafood and Cannon Seafood, an upscale market in Georgetown, for $136,884.

Wayne Hettenbach, the lead prosecutor for the Justice Department, told the judge that Hallock had provided "substantial assistance" early in the five-year investigation, supplying information about the seafood dealers and other watermen. Four Maryland-licensed watermen are awaiting sentencing, two others have been indicted and the Georgetown market and its two owners are to be sentenced May 8 in Washington. More charges are expected.

However, Hettenbach added that by overfishing, the poachers had harmed the striped bass population, undercut the market for other watermen and skewed the reporting and quota system used by the 12 Eastern Seaboard states to prevent overharvesting.

The prosecutor noted that overfishing had caused the species to crash, forcing regulators to impose a five-year moratorium that ended in 1990. He also told the judge that as the spawning ground for about three-quarters of the East Coast striped bass population, the Chesapeake Bay needs protection.

"This crime has an impact up and down the East Coast," Hettenbach said.

Gill Cochran, Hallock's lawyer, said the check-in system that allows fish dealers to report catches to the Department of Natural Resources has created a situation that is like letting "the fox in the henhouse."

In a halting voice and pausing to keep his composure, Hallock said news accounts had made the watermen out to be "poachers and pirates." But "I'm just a father and a husband, a fisherman. ... I didn't do this out of greed. ... I have a strong desire to support my family."

While saying he had "some sympathy for the watermen out there," Messitte said he had to decide on a sentence "that's going to make the point here."

Hettenbach called the outcome "fair and just. We are pleased with the sentence the judge imposed."

As part of his plea agreement, Hallock waived the right to appeal.

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