Only $720 of $10K fine paid for illegal lobsters

MIKE SPRINGER/Staff file photoGloucester lobsterman James Santapaola Jr. stands up during an appearance over illegal lobsters landings in 2017 in Gloucester District Court. He is due in court Monday to discuss the outstanding balance on the fines from the offenses.

When James A. Santapaola Jr. got nabbed landing 183 illegal lobsters at a local lobster wholesaler two years ago, the Gloucester lobsterman eventually cut a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to 20 of the counts and pay two fines totaling $10,050.

Later, the state Division of Marine Fisheries suspended his state lobstering license for three months.

Now, nearly two years after the plea deal, Santapaola Jr. — who was arrested again last week on charges of possessing 47 illegal lobsters — has paid only $720 of the $10,050 in fines, according to the clerk's office at the Gloucester District Court.

Melissa Teixeira Prince, chief court clerk, on Wednesday said Santapaola Jr. is scheduled for a status review with court officials on Monday, Nov. 19, to discuss the outstanding balance on the fines from the previous offenses.

Last Friday afternoon, the Massachusetts Environmental Police, operating with Gloucester police and officers from NOAA Law Enforcement, arrested the 42-year-old Santapaola Jr. for possessing five crates and one tote of illegal live lobsters which law enforcement officers estimated collectively to weigh between 500 and 600 pounds.

According to the environmental police report, officers believe the lobsters came off Santapaola's 38-foot fiberglass boat Shearwater on Nov. 1 before being placed in secure crates in the water for a day. Santapaola Jr. was arrested the following day as he was transferring the lobsters to a personal vehicle.

The haul, according to law enforcement reports, included 28 undersized lobsters, 16 V-notched females and three oversized lobsters. The lobsters were returned to the ocean.

Santapaola Jr. is also scheduled back in Gloucester District Court on Dec. 19 for a pre-trial hearing on the most recent charges.

Environmental police said in their report they initially were tipped to possible illegal activity "by numerous complaints of illegal lobster fishing" in both state and federal waters.

"Through multiple complaints, we identified the fishing vessel Shearwater and its operator James A. Santapaola Jr. as possibly being involved in landing under-sized lobsters and failing to report his lobster landings," Environmental Police Officer Ryan Lennon wrote in his report. "Santapaola is known to the department from previous marine fisheries violations."

The most infamous occurred in November 2016, when Santapaola Jr. landed 183 illegal lobsters — including 144 undersized lobsters, two egg-bearing female lobsters and 37 lobsters with V-notches that identify breeding females — in one day at Capt. Joe & Sons on East Main Street. The Environmental Police officials said the wholesaler was not culpable in the illegal landings because it never took the lobsters into its possession.

There were no federal charges brought in the incident because Santapaola did not possess a federal lobster license at the time.

Federal records show Santapaoila Jr. owns a dozen 2018 federal fishery permits, including an American lobster trap permit. 

Santapaola Jr., who could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, did not speak at his plea-deal sentencing in January 2017. Instead, he had his attorney, Liam O'Connell, read a letter of apology to the entire Gloucester lobstering fleet into the court record.

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT. 

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