Elver fisherman gets jail time for tax evasion

ELLSWORTH For a while, harvesting elvers must have looked like an expressway to riches, but for at least one fisherman who ignored the highway signs, it was a quick road to the slammer.

On Oct. 1, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills announced that Waldoboro elver fisherman Paul L. Griffin Jr., 44, would spend 90 days in jail for failure to pay his Maine income taxes. According to a statement from Mills’ office, Griffin previously had pleaded guilty to income tax evasion and failure to file and pay income taxes for years 2009 and 2011 through 2013. In addition, Mills said, in 2012 and 2013, Griffin substantially underreported his elver landings to the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) and then failed to file Maine Income Tax returns for those years, during which he earned over $370,000 each year.

On Sept. 28, Griffin was sentenced in Lincoln County Superior Court to a jail term of 364 days, with all but 90 days suspended, and one year of administrative release. He also will pay restitution of $67,762 and forfeit his ability to harvest elvers for the 2016 season. Griffin already has paid $6,500 in restitution and will be required to make regular payments toward the remaining balance.

It appears that 2012 was a good year for elver fishing. With no limit on landings and a price that averaged $1,868 per pound, according to the DMR, it may have been too good for some elver harvesters to resist.

In March of last year, Ellsworth elver fisherman Danny Deraps pleaded guilty to state charges of income tax evasion and theft for reporting only part of the $700,000 he earned harvesting elvers – about 375 pounds at that year’s average market price of $1,868 per pound – during the 10-week 2012 fishing season. He, too, received a 364-day jail sentence with all but 90 days suspended.

Until 2014, there was no limit on the amount of elvers an individual could harvest, nor was there any statewide quota.

“A lot of people harvested more than a hundred pounds,” elver harvester Darrell Young said Friday. Young is a board member and founder of the Maine Elver Fishermen Association.

According to the statement from the attorney general, the investigations into the underreporting of elver harvesting have highlighted the need for harvesters to report truthfully their harvests so that the DMR can effectively manage the fishery.

“Elver harvesting can be extremely lucrative, but we must take management of the resource very seriously, or the fishery could be gone for good,” Mills said in a written statement. “A few bad actors could jeopardize the entire fishery.”

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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