Southern Md. Fishermen Get Prison Terms for Underreporting Rockfish Harvests

By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 3, 2009

Three fishermen accused of dramatically underreporting their rockfish harvests received prison terms last week, as federal prosecutors continued a crackdown on a black market fish trade involving more than a dozen people, including several in St. Mary's County, authorities said.

Thomas Crowder Jr., 40, of Leonardtown received the most severe sentence: 15 months in prison, a $5,000 fine and an order to pay more than $96,000 in restitution, the U.S. attorney's office said.

John W. Dean, 53, of Scotland was sentenced to a month in prison and five months of home detention, plus a $1,000 fine and $10,000 in restitution.

Charles Quade, 55, of Churchton was sentenced to five months in prison and five months of home detention, plus a $1,000 fine and $15,000 in restitution.

By law, watermen who catch striped bass must follow strict quotas and are required to accurately record the number and weight of the fish they catch, prosecutors said.

The three men sentenced last week overfished about $2.15 million worth of striped bass. Crowder was responsible for about $956,000; Dean, $100,000; and Quade, $151,000, prosecutors said.

The three pleaded guilty to federal charges in February. They admitted that from 2003 to 2007, they overfished the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding waterways by failing to record some of the striped bass they caught or underreporting its weight, prosecutors said.

Crowder's attorney, Timothy F. Maloney of Greenbelt, said that the overfishing underscores a problem in the system.

"I'm not trying to minimize the offense here or the importance of protecting the environment, but the fact is this is a chronic, systemic problem that needs to be addressed," he said. "This is a system that is broken, statewide, and that this happened at every single check-in station Mr. Crowder went to, it's not limited to one group of fishermen or one region."

Golden Eye Seafood, a Southern Maryland fish wholesaler and check-in station, and its owner, Robert Lumpkins, 55, of Piney Point, were also charged last month with violating federal fishing laws.

Robert Bonsib, Lumpkins's attorney, said it would be inappropriate to comment on the charges before any court proceedings. He said that his client is "a well-respected waterman with a long family history in St. Mary's County."

"These are hardworking folks just trying to make a living," he said.

Attorneys for Quade and Dean described their clients in similar terms. They said that each man was remorseful and eager to move on.

"He knew there was going to be a price to pay," said Drew Cochran, Quade's attorney. "As a waterman, it's a tough life. He was out on a boat and got tempted. I don't think he'll ever do it again, by any means."

Others who have pleaded guilty to similar charges are to be sentenced in the coming months, prosecutors said. A few are awaiting trial.

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