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Updated: January 31, 2022

Maine fishing captain, crew indicted on fraud charges over 2.6 million pounds of catch

Courtesy / NOAA Atlantic herring, used as food and as lobster bait, are subject to strict fishing quotas and catch-reporting requirements.

The owner of a Rockland fishing boat and his crew have been indicted in Portland federal court on charges of fraud and conspiracy, alleging the fishermen illegally sold millions of pounds of herring over the course of several years and pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars.

A grand jury on Thursday handed up a 35-count indictment against the owner and co-captain of F/V Western Sea, Glenn Robbins, 75, of Eliot; co-captain Ethan Chase, 44, of Portsmouth, N.H.; and crew members Andrew Banow, 35, of Rockport, Neil Herrick, 46, of Rockland, Stephen Little, 56, of Warren, and Jason Parent, 49, of Owls Head. Robbins’ company, Western Sea Inc., was also indicted.

The Western Sea, a 100-foot-long purse seiner, made over 80 voyages from June 2016 to September 2019 to fish for Atlantic herring in the Gulf of Maine. According to U.S. Attorney Darcie N. McElwee, the defendants sold over 2.6 million pounds of their catch without reporting it as required to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The buyers were five unidentified fish dealers and three unidentified lobster boat operators. Sales to three of the dealers totaled 1.6 million pounds, for which the defendants received more than $460,000, according to the indictment. It did not list amounts for other alleged sale proceeds.

The indictment says all crew members received shares of the sales. Robbins, Chase and an unindicted co-conspirator also submitted dozens of falsified reports to NOAA in order to cover up the unreported sales, federal prosecutors claim.

NOAA requires reports from herring fishermen on their catch so that the agency, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, can set policies to safeguard the fishery. Vessel captains sign the reports under penalty of perjury.

Atlantic herring are used as both food and lobster bait, but the fishery has faced “serious quota reductions” in recent years, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources. Maine landings were about 13 million pounds in 2019 and valued at $5.8 million.

This isn’t the first time the Western Sea has run into troubled legal waters.

In 2019, the DMR charged Robbins, Chase and seafood dealer Dustin Reed with state civil violations of herring harvest regulations. At the time, DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher said, “Mr. Robbins has attended many herring management meetings over the years to speak to the need to protect this industry from overfishing. His actions and those of his crew are directly counter to his publicly stated positions. This is disappointing to say the least.”

In a news release on last week's grand jury action, NOAA Director of Law Enforcement James Landon said, “The type of unscrupulous and unlawful fishing alleged in the indictment returned by the grand jury directly affects the economic benefit of law-abiding fishermen and fishing communities. We will continue to help bring to justice those who are proven to have violated U.S. fishing laws and regulations, to help ensure the sustainability of our living marine resources while also maximizing economic benefit.”

Some of the counts in the indictment are Class C felonies, punishable by a prison sentence of up 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000.

Edward MacColl, the Portland attorney for Robbins, Chase and Western Sea Inc., did not immediately respond to inquiries from Mainebiz. Lawyers for the other defendants had not filed an appearance by Friday afternoon.

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February 1, 2022

Their license should be revoked and all monies they got paid should be returned. Even if it means selling the boats and going to jail!

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