Pictured during filming of the National Geographic show “Wicked Tuna” are, from left, Capt. T.J. Ott and First Mate Jarrett Przyszewski sending the Hot Tuna’s catch up to the buyer. PFTV/Cory Long

MA - 'Wicked Tuna' captain pays $13K in tuna sale plea deal

The captain of the fishing vessel Hot Tuna, featured in the hit reality television show “Wicked Tuna,” found himself in some wicked hot water in October 2021 and recently paid for it.

“Through their investigation,” the Massachusetts Environmental Police posted Dec. 7 on its Facebook page, “officers discovered that several bluefin tuna had been sold illegally to a Gloucester fish market. Criminal charges were taken out against the captain of the vessel in Gloucester District Court.”

The post says that late last month, the captain signed a plea deal with the Commonwealth, paying $13,000 in fines “for the illegal sale of the fish.”

The case on nine counts of violation of a commercial fishing license against Capt. Timothy J. “TJ” Ott of Great Neck, New York, was disposed of on Oct. 28, 2022, according to Essex District Attorney spokesperson Carrie Kimball and court documents. Kimball said Ott was ordered to pay $13,500 in restitution. According to a district court clerk, the money goes to the state’s environmental trust fund.

“It is illegal for an individual without a commercial permit issued through the (state Division) of Marine Fisheries to sell any fish that they catch; additionally, it is illegal for a fish house to purchase fish from an unpermitted individual,” the Environmental Police’s post states. “These requirements assist the Division of Marine Fisheries and NOAA to regulate catch quotas that are in place to ensure the long term survivability of fish species.”

According to Massachusetts Environmental Police reports in Gloucester District Court, officers on the patrol vessel Thomas Paine were conducting marine fisheries inspections on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Stellwagen Bank National Sanctuary.

They were inspecting tuna vessels for compliance because a permit from NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service is required to target highly migratory fish. In the northwest corner of Stellwagen Bank, they came across several tuna boats, and they noticed Hot Tuna. The report noted Hot Tuna holds a federal charter/headboat permit for 2021 from National Marine Fisheries, allowing it to fish commercially and recreationally for bluefin, the report states.

Commercial fishing of tuna was closed at the time, and the patrol did not disrupt the Hot Tuna’s charter fishing trip, but knowing Ott was a well-known commercial fisherman performed an administrative search of his permits.

They located his federal permit for 2021, but they were unable to locate his state Division of Marine Fisheries permit for that year. Police searched an online database but could not find DMF permits for Hot Tuna or Ott’s second boat, Bad Fish, for 2021, but they found Ott had permits for both boats in 2020.

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