About 600,000 pounds of rockfish with a retail value of $3 million to $7 million were handled by a ring that trafficked fish from the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River, law enforcement officials said in early February.
Nine people have been charged after a four-year undercover probe that authorities called the largest-ever investigation of illegal commercial fishing in the area.
According to prosecutors, the group included fishermen and the owner of a seafood market in the Georgetown area of the District of Columbia.
State fisheries officials in Virginia and Maryland said that they had not been told how many rockfish the group allegedly took, adding that the Chesapeake's population of rockfish-or striped bass-remains healthy overall.
The fish is a rare success story for the Bay, having rebounded from very low levels in the 1980s because of limits on fishing.
"It's not a threat to the ecosystem. It's not a major threat to the striped bass population, either. But it's a significant amount of fish," said Bill Goldsborough, senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "You can't manage a fishery very effectively...if you're going to have rampant poaching like that."
In court documents, authorities accuse the fishermen of circumventing catch limits, sometimes underreporting or falsely reporting how certain fish were caught.
As an example, authorities said, some fish were caught in large nets, but they were reported as having been caught on hook and line. Because of this, the fish were counted against a different state quota.
Authorities have also charged Robert Moore Sr., who owns Cannon Seafood.
Thomas Abbenante, Moore's lawyer, said that Moore has closed the store and agreed to plead guilty to buying fish caught out of season.
The nine people were charged with violating the Lacy Act, a federal law that bars the creation of false records for fish and wildlife or transporting illegally harvested wildlife.
Each faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Authorities said the investigation is continuing.