Tangier Island man sentenced after illegally harvesting and selling oysters

A tableful of farmed Chesapeake Bay oysters freshly harvested from Tangier Sound in Virginia.

NORFOLK, Va. – A Tangier Island man was sentenced on August 22, to one year in prison for violating the Lacey Act by harvesting oysters from the Chesapeake Bay in excess of Virginia limits and transporting them to Maryland for sale.

Court documents say that Gregory Wheatley Parks Jr., 44, was the captain of the fishing vessel Melissa Hope. He was aware of the limits set on oyster harvesting, as well as his obligation to accurately report the quantity of oysters harvested to Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC). On seven separate dates between January 2015 and March 2015, Parks harvested oysters in excess of the Virginia daily catch limit.

He transported those oysters to a fish dealer in Maryland, where he sold them. For each of these trips, Parks falsely reported to the VMRC that he had harvested a legal quantity of oysters. Parks pleaded guilty to one count of Trafficking under the Lacey Act, a federal law that prohibits individuals from transporting, selling or buying fish and wildlife harvested illegally.

“The over-harvesting of oysters hurts efforts to restore the species’ population after significant decline, harming both the environment and the law-abiding watermen who choose to follow the rules rather than gain an unfair advantage,” said Jeffrey Bossert Clark, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Today’s sentence demonstrates that people who choose to illegally exploit this valuable resource for personal gain will face the criminal law consequences Congress has ordained.”

The oyster (Crassotrea virginica) is a keystone species in the Chesapeake Bay due to its ability to build reefs that serve as a habitat for numerous fish species. Oysters also improve the Bay’s water quality through filtration. Virginia limits the daily harvest of oysters to eight bushels per registered commercial fisherman for the purpose of conserving the state’s oyster resources. It also requires commercial fishermen to submit daily harvest records to the VMRC that report the amount of oysters harvested.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement proudly protects our nation’s wildlifeand wild places for the continuing benefit of the American people,” said Edward Grace, Assistant Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement. “Overharvest of aquatic ecosystems is a serious crime that hurts native species, local communities and the economy. By complying with laws that protect wildlife, the American public can help conserve our nation’s natural resources for generations to come.”

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