Man pleads guilty to endangered-fish charges

Posted Feb. 03, 2011, at 8:45 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A Dover-Foxcroft man who was selling Atlantic salmon he had taken from the Piscataquis River in August 2009 waived indictment and pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court in Bangor.

Mark Cox, 40, who pleaded guilty to a violation of the Lacey Act, which is taking, selling or attempting to sell an endangered species, is expected to be sentenced in the spring. He was released on personal recognizance bail with conditions, including cooperation in the collection of a DNA sample if authorities request it and ad-vising the court and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in writing if his address or telephone number changes.

The charge carries a sentence of imprisonment of not more than five years or a fine not to exceed $20,000, or both.

Cox already has been sentenced to several state charges in connection with the 2009 illegal taking of live or dead fish from the river and other bodies of water in the Dover-Foxcroft area. He pleaded guilty in December 2009 to state violations involving the sale of 46 brook trout, the possession of 41 brook trout over the limit, the possession of 21 brook trout over the limit and the possession of several live fish, all of which occurred on different days. He was fined a total of $2,960 for the violations.

Many of the dead fish were shorter than the minimum length required by state law, wardens said at the time of Cox’s sentencing.

The state noted in the charges that Cox had been keeping several brook trout in an aerated tank in his house and was selling them illegally to stock farm ponds.

Cox came to the attention of state and federal officials in 2009 through an Operation Game Thief hot line tip. Wardens and U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents placed Cox under surveillance and observed him on his property and around the waters in the Dover-Foxcroft area.

On Aug. 19, 2009, agents witnessed Cox taking an Atlantic salmon and netting a second salmon caught by another individual. The pair caught the salmon by dragging hooks across the pool; the fish did not bite, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.

An undercover agent contacted Cox a day later and paid Cox $200 for two bags of brook trout. The pair discussed the purchase of Atlantic salmon, and they agreed the undercover agent would pay $100 or more per salmon, according to court documents.

On Aug. 21, 2009, Cox was caught taking three Atlantic salmon from the Piscataquis River by snagging the fish. He sold the fish later that day to an undercover agent for $390. Cox had vacuum-packed the fish and labeled them as brown trout, according to court documents.

A search warrant was executed on Aug. 21 at Cox’s home where agents found fishing gear and remnants of cleaned fish.

Cox allegedly told the agents he originally had caught the salmon for sport, but his dire financial circumstances led him to sell the catch. He reportedly told agents he took at least eight Atlantic salmon from the river between Aug. 13 and 21, 2009.

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