An alleged scheme to sell an illegal bluefin catch cost a Gloucester, Mass., fisherman $26,000.
Fifteen days after the 2017 Atlantic bluefin tuna season ended, surveillance footage caught a bluefin tuna being landed at the Pigeon Cove Fishermen's Co-Op in Rockport, Mass., then dragged down the road in a truck.
Harold Wentworth, 41, of Gloucester, admitted in court that he had brought in the bluefin on the F/V Went-Way.
Prosecutor Heidi Sylvanowicz said Wentworth, who had lost his license the year before as a result of a drunken driving arrest, was behind the wheel of the truck and planned to put the fish on ice until it could be sold on the black market. Authorities had it hauled out of the woods with a tow truck and donated to a farm for compost.
Wentworth pleaded guilty, was fined $1,000 and will serve a year of probation. Federal authorities have already levied a $15,000 fine. The tuna was valued at roughly $10,000, tallying a $26,000 loss, not including the probationary restrictions and damage to the industry's reputation.
“The commercial fishing industry is in turmoil for a variety of reasons I won’t go into,” said Judge James Barretto of the Peabody (Mass.) District Court at a hearing before the case was scheduled to be tried. “For hundreds of years, the people of Gloucester have earned a living by going to sea. The fleet has shrunken so dramatically it’s a national story. Taking tuna out of season makes that job much more difficult.”
The probation conditions include having no contact with any of the witnesses in the case. Sylvanowicz reported that witnesses had expressed concerns about retaliation for their cooperation with law enforcement.
The case was moved to Peabody to accommodate Wentworth's request for a jury trial, which Gloucester's courthouse could not accommodate.