‘Buddha’ Busted: The downfall of a Maine seafood dealer

Note: The image shown below of a legal scallop haul is a NOAA Fisheries photo that is unrelated to Chris Byers’ criminal case. I blurred the face of the fisherman so he would not be unfairly associated with criminal conduct. -Bill Trotterscalloppile090914

“The smart man ain’t the one who does it himself; he’s the one that can find the competent people to do it for him.” – from a 2008 newspaper story about Christopher Byers.

I’ve not had much contact with Chris “Buddha” Byers. I interviewed him once nearly 10 years ago about a memorial to Winter Harbor fishermen. I talked to Byers in December 2004 about three of his relatives – his grandfather and two uncles – who died while at sea. I never learned much about him specifically or his business, D.C. Air & Seafood.

What I have learned about Byers since December 2011 has mainly been from federal court documents filed in New Jersey. The information in the documents doesn’t provide much background about him, but is enough to cast him in a fairly negative light. Anybody who poaches close to 80,000 pounds of scallops is not going to be viewed in a sympathetic light by most people, for good reason.

So it was with some interest when, while writing on Monday about Byers’ being sentenced to serve 30 months in federal prison for illegally harvesting the scallops and then trying to conceal the crime, I came across this 2008 profile of him that was published in the Working Waterfront newspaper (which is published by the nonprofit Island Institute).

The article describes how Byers got his start in the seafood business as an urchin diver in the late 1980s. Within a few years, when the price of urchins climbed up and landings soared, he was making “over six figures a year.” Byers soon got into the air compressor business, refilling SCUBA tanks he and other divers used, and then expanded into the seafood distribution business.

From his meager beginnings, the article notes, Byers’ enterprise grew to include three “fishing vessels 48, 45 and 42-feet long, seven 18-wheel trailer trucks, three 10-wheelers and a full-time staff of 14.” What started in a garage expanded to an 8,500-square-foot building. His company’s sales in 2007, he told the reporter, were “way over $10 million.”

It is a compelling tale. Byers left high school early to work as a fisherman – a profession that had claimed the lives of three close relatives. He worked hard, benefited from some timely opportunities, and grew a successful business. But his success was followed by apparent greed, which has since led to his disgrace and downfall.

No true story about an actual person can tell you absolutely everything about that person, so it can be hard to figure out who somebody is just by reading newspaper articles or court documents about them.

But one thing about the Working Waterfront story that has made an impression with me is the timing of its publication. The article is dated Feb. 1, 2008, which means it hit the newsstands after Byers illegally harvested scallops in 2007 and only about one month before he and his co-conspirators used “hidden compartments in vessels for the purpose of concealing the harvesting of scallops,” according to federal prosecutors.

It is odd to read it now, knowing that a criminal conspiracy to poach a half-million dollars worth of a natural resource was being pursued so close to the time that the article appeared in print.

Bill Trotter

About Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors. He writes about fisheries, marine-related topics, eastern coastal Maine communities and more for the BDN. He lives in Ellsworth. Follow him on Twitter at @billtrotter.