WASHINGTON (WNCN) — A North Carolina fisherman is facing up to five years in prison after admitting in federal court that he lied about catching striped bass in state, rather than federal waters.
Willis was charged with violating the Lacey Act, a federal law that bars people from transporting, buying or selling fish and wildlife that has been harvested illegally, and with filing false reports, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Dewey W. Willis Jr., of Newport, pleaded guilty Monday in Wilmington, officials said. The charges stem from fish he caught off of the North Carolina coast in 2010, officials said. Willis is one of 14 commercial fishermen charged in connection with the case, according to officials.
After a tip, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sent the U.S. Coast Guard to board the fishing boat Lady Samaira, federal authorities said.
Willis was allowed to catch striped bass, also known as rockfish, in North Carolina waters, but was actually catching them in federal waters off the state’s coast, federal officials said.
Willis now faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, officials said. He is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 12.
“The illegal poaching of striped bass by commercial fishermen has a major impact on the survival of this iconic fish resource and has the potential to devastate the future livelihoods of law abiding commercial fishermen,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division in a statement.
Striped bass can live up to 30 years and weigh 50 pounds or more. They annually run up the rivers where they were born to spawn, then return to the ocean. The federal government has barred all harvest of striped bass in federal waters since 1990 due to “drastic declines” of the species, according to the Justice Department.
North Carolina allows the fish to be harvested, but only within strict limits.