Virginia, Maryland Law Enforcement Officers Receive ASMFC Award

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Mr. Wayne Hettenbach of Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and the agents and officers of the Interstate Watershed Task Force from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Virginia Marine Police, and Maryland Natural Resources Police are recognized in the Law Enforcement category for the successful culmination in 2008 of their joint federal/state investigation of illegal striped bass harvest in the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay. The investigation resulted in charges, ranging from fines to incarceration, for nine individuals and one corporation, with additional charges yet to come. During the course of the covert investigation, initiated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2002, Task Force members documented the illegal harvest, sale and purchase of more than 600,000 pounds of striped bass with an estimated value of more than three million dollars.

In August 2007, the Task Force coordinated a joint law enforcement operation and take-down. Seven law enforcement agencies and some 95 officers and agents, spanning three jurisdictions, searched two seafood businesses, five residences and other locations. Seven subpoenas were served and two boats, as well as a pickup truck, were seized. In early 2008, they began an overt operation including a detailed analysis of striped bass catch reporting and commercial business sales records from 2003 through 2007.

A widespread conspiracy to under report striped bass harvests was uncovered. Because of the quality of the Task Force investigation and documentation, nearly all defendants have negotiated plea agreements with the Department of Justice. Perhaps more importantly, the investigation resulted in significant changes in striped bass tagging regulations. The Task Force and others involved in the investigation assisted Maryland in developing new regulations and tagging requirements, which will be effective this summer, to forestall efforts to profit on a large scale from this important East Coast fishery.

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