Eastern Shore commercial fisherman takes case to FBI
In an effort to stop what he says is illegal harassment of himself and other commercial fishermen on the Eastern Shore, Ed Bender has contacted the U.S. Attorney's office and the FBI in Norfolk.
In his complaint he is alleging corruption, theft, and extortion within the offices of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC).
The state agency that regulates commercial fisheries in Virginia, according to Bender, has violated the federal Hobbs Act by confiscating and interfering with commerce (seafood) in interstate commerce in order to use state regulations and statues to harass him and others. It is against federal law for anyone (including the state) to interfere with interstate commerce.
Bender said he has documented evidence to back up his claims to the FBI.
He claims the VMRC is rife with corruption because of the way it deals with commercial fishermen.
A spokesman said, the agency has undergone a restructuring in recent years and it has tried to bring professionalism to its "marine patrol" staff. They have undergone professional training and are under closer supervision than in the 'old days' when their description as waterfront 'gunslingers' was fairly accurate in some cases. Before the restructuring, the philosophy was 'the end justifies the means,' in bringing cases. The VMRC denies that's the attitude now.
Regardless, Bender says nothing has really changed - the VMRC patrol officers apply the regulations and laws as arbitrarily and capriciously as ever. "They don't like me, particularly," he said because he probably knows more about marine law than many lawyers, "so I am the focus of their enforcement activities." He's acknowledges he's been a burr under their saddles.
Bender was forced to serve some jail time in past years when one of his vessels sank and he wouldn't remove it when ordered to do so by the VMRC. But he spent his time and has remained just as independent and adamant in opposing what he calls the VMRC's unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious enforcement actions.
His goal, Bender said, is to make the state agency responsible for its actions in violating federal law by trying to make cases against him and others under state regulations and laws. He hopes to spark a investigation at the federal level to accomplish this, he said.