By Linda Cicoira — A Tangier waterman pleaded guilty last week in U.S. District Court, in Norfolk, to violating the Lacey Act by harvesting oysters from the Chesapeake Bay in excess of Virginia limits and then transporting them to Maryland and selling them.
Gregory Wheatley Parks Jr., 43, a commercial oysterman operating the vessel Melissa Hope, was “properly licensed and therefore aware of the limits,” the prosecutor’s office stated. He could be given a maximum term of five years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 22.
Parks harvested a total of 38 bushels over the limit and took them to Crisfield, Md., where he sold them to a seafood dealer, according to court records. “For the months of January and March 2015, Parks submitted … monthly harvest reports that falsely indicated he did not harvest oysters above the Virginia limits … For the months of February 2015 and January and February 2017, the defendant reported to VMRC that he had not fished during those time periods, when in fact he had.”
“Parks has a long history of violating local and state laws that regulate the harvesting of seafood and wildlife,” the court record stated. “Between 2008 and 2017, Parks was convicted of numerous violations of Maryland and Virginia law related to the harvest of oysters, including possession of oysters over the legal limit, taking oysters from polluted grounds, taking oysters out of season, and larceny of oysters from bedded grounds. The defendant acknowledges that the foregoing statement of facts does not describe all of the defendant’s conduct relating to the offenses charged in this case nor does it identify all of the persons with whom the defendant may have engaged in illegal activities.”
“The protection of our environmental harvest is one of the responsibilities shared by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “As stewards of the environment, we must endeavor to ensure that everyone adheres to the principle of fair and sustainable use of these natural resources, lest they be destroyed for future generations. Individuals who skirt this responsibility and harvest oysters beyond established limits deplete our resources, degrade our environment, and cheat those honest oystermen who uphold the law.”
“The native American wild oyster population is a keystone species responsible for maintaining the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem,” said Jeff Odom, assistant special agent in charge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “This investigation focused on the most egregious of those commercial harvesters attempting to circumvent the law and should serve as notice that the USFWS will be vigilant in protecting our natural resources.”