Yesterday, the Department of Justice announced that Dewey W. Willis Jr. plead guilty to federal charges for the illegal harvest of Atlantic striped bass from federal waters in 2010. It has been illegal to harvest the Atlantic striped bass, also referred to as a “rockfish” or a “striper,” from federal waters since 1990, due to the severe decrease in stock. Decrease in stock is the result of overfishing and environmental conditions since the 1970s. “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.

After receiving an informative tip, NOAA conducted a multi-defendant investigation on Willis’s claim of harvesting the Atlantic striped bass from state waters. The investigation confirmed that Willis made false claims, had illegally harvested, and did not properly report his catch of the Atlantic striped bass. Willis’ sentencing hearing is scheduled for December 12, 2016.

Willis is now subjected to enforcement mechanisms of the Lacey Act. The Lacey Act states that is it unlawful to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase any fish in violation of any law or regulation of the United States.  The Lacey Act carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, plus the potential forfeiture of vessels and vehicles used in committing the offense. Additionally, the Lacey Act provides a reward to any person who furnishes information, which leads to an arrest, criminal conviction, civil penalty assessment, or forfeiture of property for any violation of the Lacey Act.
This case is a perfect example of why it is critical to reward wildlife whistleblowers; without the informative tip, NOAA might not have identified Willis’s illegal behavior.

The National Whistleblower Center’s new Global Wildlife Whistleblower Program provides a platform through which insiders can report illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, along with other wildlife crimes.  The NWC was recently named a Grand Prize Winner in the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge, an initiative of USAID in partnership with the National Geographic Society, the Smithsonian Institution, and TRAFFIC.  NWC’s Grand Prize-Winning solution, the Secure Internet Wildlife Crime Reporting System, is a secure online platform, a one-stop shop through which whistleblowers can safely and anonymously file reports of wildlife crimes and gain useful information about how wildlife whistleblower laws work.

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** Hat Tip to NWC Legal Intern Kathleen Left for her help with this blog!