A Virginia waterman was sentenced in U.S. District Court today to one year and one day in prison and a $4,000 fine and was ordered to make $40,000 in restitution for his part in the largest striped bass poaching case in the history of the Chesapeake Bay.
With family and friends watching, Thomas Hallock, 48, of Catharpin, Va., was ordered by Judge Peter Messitte to surrender to marshals on May 22 to begin serving his sentence. One month after his release, Hallock will be required to pay $300 a month for 36 months, after which time the court will work out the terms for the remainder of his restitution.
Wayne Hettenbach, the lead prosecutor for the Justice Department, called the sentence, "fair and just. We are pleased with the sentence the judge imposed."
Hallock admitted to overfishing 68,442 pounds of rockfish that had a fair market retail value of $342,210.
Hettenbach told Messitte that Hallock had provided "substantial assistance" early in the five-year investigation, supplying information about the seafood dealers and other watermen.
That said, Hettenbach told the judge that by overfishing, poachers like Hallock had harmed the striped bass population, undercut the market for other watermen and skewed the quota system used by the 12 Eastern Seaboard states to prevent overharvesting.
The prosecutor noted that overfishing had caused the species to crash, forcing regulators to impose a five-year moratorium that ended in 1990. He also told the judge that as the spawning ground for about three-quarters of the East Coast striped bass population, the Chesapeake Bay needs protection.
"This crime has an impact up and down the East Coast," Hettenbach said.
Gill Cochran, the lawyer for Hallock, said the check-in system used by the Department of Natural Resources created a situation that was like letting "the fox in the hen house."
Allowing fish dealers to act as commercial check-in stations and having no auditing system allowed the poaching to go on unabated.
"That does not excuse what happened here," Cochran said. "The fisherman, he's sort of caught in the middle. The buyers reap the benefit of all this."
In a halting voice and pausing to keep his composure, Hallock said news accounts had made the watermen out to be "poachers and pirates," but "I'm just a father and a husband, a fisherman ... I didn't do this out of greed ... I have a strong desire to support my family."
While saying he had "some sympathy for the watermen out there," Messitte said he had to decide on a sentence "that's going to make the point here."
As part of his plea agreement, Hallock waived the right of appeal.
What a jerk 0ff! We all want to support our family except most of us don't break the law to do so. And what audacity this guy has to call himself a fisherman when he is little more than a poacher and a thief.
RETAIL VALUE!!!. not saying he is not a POACHER, he is. He may have made 10% of that. THE sellers need to to get FRIED for not looking at where the fish came from. Do you think a CEO knows every transaction in every bank. JMO