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RSA Violations Result in Arrest, Guilty Plea for New York Fisherman

NOAA special agents uncovered research set-aside violations of unreported fluke valued at nearly $625,000.

In July 2010, agents for NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement initiated an investigation into Research Set-Aside (RSA) violations. On April 11, 2014, the investigation culminated in a guilty plea by a Levittown, New York, fisherman to mail fraud, wire fraud, and falsifying federal records.

Anthony Joseph pled guilty in federal district court to one count of mail fraud, two counts of wire fraud, and one count of falsifying federal records. Though the final sentence is up to the Court, the defendant has agreed to pay between $629,000 and $692,000 in combined fines and forfeitures. He also agreed to multiple sentence conditions, including relinquishment of his New York State summer flounder permit, a ban on participation in the RSA program, and a lifetime ban from possessing a NOAA operator’s permit.  At a future sentencing hearing, the Court will decide what other penalties, if any, will be imposed.

In all, OLE agents determined that Joseph filed 158 false fishing logs and was complicit in the submission of 167 false dealer reports. These violations led to criminal charges, and he also violated provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

“Accurate reporting on submitted fishing logs and dealer reports is the foundation for sound and sustainable management of our fisheries,” said Special Agent Todd Smith. “In this instance, the offending party committed more than 300 violations under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. We are hopeful results like this will serve as a deterrent to future fraud and abuse in the fishing industry.”

Joseph capitalized by purchasing set-asides for summer flounder and underreporting the total catch. He used two cooperating dealers to file false federal dealer reports that matched the reports filed from his fishing vessel.

Research Set-Aside Program

The RSA program was established as a mechanism to fund research and compensate vessel owners through the sale of fish harvested under a research quota or research days at sea. 

While using set-aside days or quota, vessels are often allowed to do so in more opportune ways than the general fleet, for example, with exemptions from trip limits, some seasonal closures, or other restrictions that would otherwise apply.

“The ability to catch and sell fish from a limited set-aside quota of fish to help fund scientific research should be considered a privilege that not all fishermen can participate in,” said Logan Gregory, Special Agent in Charge of the Office of Law Enforcement’s Northeast Division. “The unlawful non-reporting of this privileged opportunity not only undermines the accurate management of the quota, but the introduction of these fish into commerce also affects the profitability of these fish for those fishermen who comply with the regulations.”

OLE special agents spent nearly 2 years working to break down this illicit, highly organized scheme to catch and land illegal fluke. Agents’ observations of the individual in a public area over the course of several months provided solid evidence of the illegal activity. Agents worked with the Department of Justice Environmental Crimes Section to obtain and execute search warrants leading to the documentation of more than 290,000 pounds of unreported catch worth nearly $625,000.

Special Agent Matt Gilmore noted that “[T]his is another successful example of the systematic identification and exposure of individuals exploiting the RSA program and jeopardizing a public marine resource.  This will benefit both commercial and recreational users throughout Long Island.”

This marks the second RSA case since August 2013 that has resulted in a guilty plea by a fisherman abusing the program. The work of OLE special agents has prompted NOAA to revise program requirements for 2014 to ensure accurate reporting and a level the playing field for honest fishermen.

Story by John Thibodeau, communications specialist for NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement. To contact him, please call 301-427-8234 or email john.thibodeau@noaa.gov.