State environmental police say they seized 132 pounds of cod over the weekend from a charter boat on Stellwagen Bank — where cod fishing is strictly prohibited — and donated the fish to a homeless shelter.
Maj. Patrick Moran, chief of the state Environmental Police’s coastal bureau, told the Times that the police vessel was on patrol Sunday in the northwest corner of Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary, which stretches from three miles southeast of Cape Ann to three miles north of Cape Cod. Police were patrolling in light of the recent opening of the recreational haddock fishery. Recreational cod fishing is banned in this area, known as the Gulf of Maine Regulated Mesh Area.
Officers were conducting inspections on charter boats and other recreational craft when they came upon the boat in question, a charter out of Onset with 33 passengers aboard.
“The vessel was approached by our vessel and (officers) asked the captain what they had for fish aboard. When asked if they had cod aboard he said ‘no,’” according to Moran.
As the police vessel was maneuvering around the charter boat, he said the officers saw a person throwing fish over the side. It later turned out to be a crew member who threw back an undersized haddock.
After seeing this, the officers boarded the vessel and searched through the catch, which led them to the cod. Moran said several other vessels were also checked and found to be in compliance of the regulations.
The seized cod was donated to the Pine Street Inn, a homeless shelter in Boston. The Environmental Police have made a practice of donating seized seafood — or seafood unable to be returned to the water — to social service agencies, such as food pantries, including Gloucester’s Open Door, shelters, veterans organizations and the like.
The crew member was issued a citation and the case turned over to federal authorities.
Moran said all information about this incident, including the name of the verssel, captain and the crew, was forwarded to NOAA’s law enforcement division, which will handle any actions for the violations. Environmental police officers are also deputized National Marine Fisheries agents and can therefore enforce certain regulations in federal waters.
Moran did confirm that, as the customers aboard were covered under the charter vessel’s permit — they didn’t need separate recreational saltwater fishing permits — the owner or captain of the boat could also be in legal jeopardy, in addition to whoever caught the fish.
“We will be doing intermittent patrols in that area to make sure that everyone has a level playing field,” Moran said. “Ninety percent of the boats out there are paying attention to the regulations and they find it hard to stomach when other boats aren’t.”
Joe Heckwolf, an enforcement attorney with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Monday afternoon he wasn’t aware of the details of this case yet. He said the law enforcement division would conduct an investigation and if that process yields evidence for charges, the case would be forwarded on to his office.
John Castelluccio can be reached at 978-675-2708 or firstname.lastname@example.org.