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Jackson County bait operator pleads guilty to illegal seafood trafficking

Gulfport, Miss. – Joshua Jerome Moak, 36, of Moss Point, Mississippi, who operated a business known as “Moak’s Minnows” in Jackson County, pled guilty today to violating the federal Lacey Act, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Darren LaMarca;  Manny Antonaras, Assistant Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Law Enforcement; and Chief Kyle Wilkerson of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, Office of Marine Patrol.  The federal Lacey Act makes it unlawful to sell in interstate commerce any fish taken in violation of state law.

Moak pled guilty before U.S. District Judge Taylor McNeel.  He made his initial appearance and waived indictment earlier today before U.S. Magistrate Judge John Gargiulo at the federal courthouse in Gulfport.

In the felony information to which Moak pled guilty, he was charged with violating the Lacey Act by selling live shrimp and minnows to bait shop operators in Alabama and Florida.  Moak caught the bait in Mississippi waters and then transported the bait to out-of-state bait shop operators without having a license and otherwise complying with requirements of Mississippi law.  As administered by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, Mississippi regulates the seafood industry to preserve fish stocks and protect the local fishing market.

“The U.S. Department of Justice is committed to prosecuting unlicensed dealers and others who jeopardize our nation’s fisheries by illegally transporting catch in interstate commerce in violation of state law,” said Acting United States Attorney LaMarca.  “Preserving our nation’s fishing industry is essential to the sustainable management of our fisheries resource.”

For the Lacey Act charge, Moak faces a maximum of five years of imprisonment.  In addition to possible imprisonment, the defendant faces a maximum fine of $250,000, and three years of supervised release. Sentencing has been scheduled for June 24, 2021 at 10:00 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Taylor McNeel.

Acting United States Attorney LaMarca praised the efforts of the federal and state investigative agencies for their diligent work in the investigation of this matter.   The case was investigated by NOAA Office of Law Enforcement and Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Gaines Cleveland.