HARPSWELL, Maine — Five Maine fishermen are facing federal conspiracy charges after allegedly overharvesting thousands of pounds of sea scallops off the coast of New Jersey.

Robert E. Hersey Jr., 41, of Harpswell was among five men named in a Dec. 16 criminal complaint filed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which manages sea scallop fishing grounds south of Delaware Bay.

The complaint alleges that Hersey and three other fishermen — George Bamford, 37, of Harrington, Daniel Mahoney, 48, of Harrington and Michael McKenna, 35, of Steuben — conspired with D.C. Air & Seafood owner Christopher Byers, 39, of Winter Harbor to conceal illegal harvests from the Elephant Trunk Access Area by falsifying catch reports over two two-week periods in March 2007 and 2008.

According to the complaint, the men exceeded the legal catch of 400 pounds per vessel per trip and offloaded harvests during the night in Atlantic City, N.J., to trucks operated by Byers and D.C. Air & Seafood.

Byers then allegedly sold the scallops to wholesale food dealers outside of New Jersey at a price of $6 per pound.

At the time of a 2008 profile of D.C. Air & Seafood in “The Working Waterfront,” Byers’ business included three “Novi” fishing vessels — 48, 45 and 42 feet long — along with seven 18-wheel trailer trucks, three 10-wheel trucks and 14 employees.

According to the complaint, the four fishermen maintained records that were not submitted to NOAA, reflecting catches exceeding the 400-pound limit for the two-week fishing periods.

The complaint alleges that Bamford, McKenna and Byers also conspired to construct secret compartments aboard fishing vessels to conceal harvests over the legal limit.

Through five days of fishing in 2008, Hersey allegedly took in an average 830 pounds of scallops a day — more than twice the limit — aboard his ship Luke & Isabel, according to the Dec. 16 complaint.

According to the criminal complaint filed against the five Maine fishermen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an investigation found scallop harvesting records not reported to NOAA.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the defendants could serve a maximum penalty of five years in prison and pay a $250,000 fine if convicted on the conspiracy charges against them.

Byers’ seafood company also could face up to five years probation and a fine of up to $500,000 or twice the gross gain.

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