The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is cracking down on commercial fishing vessels that dump oily bilge into the ocean and its harbors. This week, the corporate owners of a New Bedford fishing fleet learned the hard way that the practice won't be tolerated.

In federal court this week, Sea Harvest Inc., operator of the New Bedford fishing vessels Enterprise and Pacific Capes joined Fishing Vessel Enterprises Inc., the vessels’ owner, in pleading guilty to two counts of violating the Clean Water Act for their "knowing and negligent" discharges of oily bilge water into New Bedford Harbor.

Now the companies have been sentenced to pay $1 million in criminal fines and serve a five-year term of probation. They will be bound by a strict compliance plan. For five years, at their own expense, they must hire independent monitors and auditors for their 36 fishing vessels, and must maintain strict bilge discharge logs.

The first federal criminal count relates to a Sept. 20, 2017 incident where the Enterprise discharged a combination of water, putrid clam juice, and oil into the Acushnet River. New Bedford Police Port Security questioned the captain of the Enterprise about the sheen in the harbor, and he admitted to dumping it from the vessel's engine room, according to federal prosecutors.

In the second incident, the master for the Pacific Capes negligently dumped oily bilge into the harbor near Fairhaven, and the oil polluted the water and a nearby beach. In that case, unbeknownst to the boat's master, a crew member had left open a valve that let the violation happen.

According to the Boston Herald, a federal judge chastised company owner Barry Cohen, saying his company committed serious crime. Cohen reportedly said that his late brother Daniel Cohen, who founded the company, had lost control of his captains and crew as he was dying of cancer. The violations occured under Daniel Cohen's watch.

The two incidents are not the first time boats owned by the company illegally dumped oily bilge, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“The laws that govern the discharge of oily bilge waste from vessels have been on the books for decades,” said Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Today’s plea should send the message that we will no longer tolerate the routine discharge of oily bilge waste into New Bedford Harbor and its surrounding waters. Vessel owners and operators can either voluntarily comply with laws that protect the nation’s waters or face criminal prosecution.”

The EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division and Coast Guard Investigative Service investigated the case. Kenneth E. Nelson and Stephen Da Ponte of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section prosecuted the case.

“The defendants intentionally discharged pollutants from their fishing vessels into New Bedford Harbor,” said EPA Special Agent in Charge Tyler Amon. “It is important that we all treat our nation's resources with respect and to comply with our laws. EPA will continue to work with our enforcement partners with the State of Massachusetts and U.S. Coast Guard to investigate environmental crimes like this one that threaten marine life and the coastal waters of New England.”

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