Seafood purveyor jailed in $500K scallop scam
A federal judge in Newark sentenced the owner of a Maine seafood wholesaler to 30 months in prison Thursday for his role in hiding nearly 80,000 pounds of Atlantic sea scallops harvested off the coasts of New Jersey and Cape Cod.
A federal judge in Newark, N.J., sentenced the owner of a Maine seafood wholesaler to 30 months in prison Thursday for his role in hiding nearly 80,000 pounds of Atlantic sea scallops harvested off the coasts of New Jersey and Cape Cod.
Christopher Byers, 42, of Winter Harbor, previously pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to defraud the federal government.
Byers admitted he worked with his company, D.C. Air & Seafood, and six boat operators to prepare false fishing vessel trip reports that concealed the over-harvesting, which occurred in 2007 and 2008 in the Elephant Trunk Access Area.
The fishing ground off the mid-Atlantic coast was at the time open to limited scallop fishing by federally permitted vessels for two-week periods, with a restriction of no more than 400 pounds of scallops per vessel per trip.
But vessels overseen by the six boat operators, who have already pleaded guilty to their roles in the scheme, failed to report 79,666 pounds of scallops harvested during the permit periods and purchased by D.C. Air & Seafood.
Several of the boats included hidden compartments specially constructed to conceal the surreptitious scallops, prosecutors said.
To further hide the over-harvesting, workers often offloaded the scallops in Atlantic City at night, in some instances directly from the boats onto trucks used by Byers and his company, court documents state.
As part of the plea agreement, Byers and his company have agreed to pay the U.S. restitution equal to the stolen scallops' value – $520,371.
D.C. Air & Seafood has been placed on a five-year probationary period during which the company will be required to follow an environmental compliance plan and will be banned from participating in the scallop industry, prosecutors said.