Canadian Seafood Dealer Convicted in International Smuggling Operation – US Attorney

LawFuel – Legal Newswire – R. Alexander Acosta, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Eddie McKissick, Resident Agent in Charge, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, H. Jeff Radonski, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Office for Law Enforcement, and David Bourne, Special Agent in Charge, Miami Field Office, U.S. Food & Drug Administration, announced that Zamorro Shone, 27, of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, pled guilty today to a two-count Indictment that charged him with assisting in smuggling quantities of queen conch from Canada to the United States in violation of the marking requirements of the U.S. Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act, Title 21, United States Code, Sections 331(a) and 333(a)(2).

Defendant faces a possible sentence for each of the two counts of up to five years’ imprisonment, three years of supervised release, and a criminal fine. Sentencing has been scheduled for June 27, 2008 at 3:00 PM before U.S. District Court Judge Alan S. Gold.

According to the allegations of the Indictment and statements in Court, from about October 2005 through March 2006, the defendant, in cooperation with others associated with a Hialeah-based seafood company, known as Caribbean Conch, Inc., caused multiple shipments, totaling 6,972 pounds of queen conch from Haiti, through Canada to the United States. At the time, queen conch from Haiti was under international embargo, and in any event would have required special permit documentation to enter the United States if legally harvested elsewhere.

Queen conch (Strombus gigas) is a commercially valuable seafood product, which falls within the taxonomic phylum Mollusca. Queen conch is a protected species under the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1533(c), and is a species listed for protection since 1992 in Appendix II of an international treaty known as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora ( “CITES”). A purpose of CITES is to monitor and restrict trade in certain species of fish, wildlife, and plants to protect them from commercial exploitation that might diminish the ability of the species to survive in the wild. More than 170 countries cooperate in the enforcement of the provisions of CITES, including the United States and Canada, by implementing domestic laws to effectuate its underlying goals. The U.S. ESA makes it unlawful “for any person subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to engage in any trade in any specimens [of wildlife] contrary to the provisions of [CITES].”

The importation of queen conch, alive or dead, and its parts and derivatives, is subject to the requirements of CITES, the ESA, and the regulations thereto. To engage in trade in queen conch, all imports or exports must be accompanied by a CITES export certificate from the country of origin, or a re-export permit from a country of re-export. In September 2003, an embargo was enacted by the CITES parties for queen conch and conch products that originated from many of the conch producing countries of the Caribbean in an effort to help stem the continued and significant declines in the species, due in large part to rampant illegal harvest fo the conch. The embargo banned all imports of queen conch to any nation that was a signatory to CITES.

Defendant’s activities in support of the smuggling venture involved his Canadian-based company, Pacific Marine Union Corporation, receiving queen conch shipped by air from Haiti to Toronto, and re-packing the conch as “Frozen Whelk meat, product of Canada”, and then arranging transportation by refrigerated truck to Hialeah, Florida. The criminal conduct was detected in March 2006 when a shipment of 2,100 pounds of the falsely labeled queen conch was intercepted by Food & Drug Administration and Fish & Wildlife Service Inspectors at the Peace River bridge in Buffalo, New York, consigned to Caribbean Conch, Inc. The Fish & Wildlife Service’s National Forensic Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon conducted DNA analysis of the seafood product and confirmed it was queen conch, and not whelk as indicated on the shipping documents. Whelk is another species of marine mollusc, not indigenous to the Caribbean, sometimes used as a cheap substitute for queen conch. However, it is not as desirable in the seafood industry and is not subject to ESA or CITES protection.

Investigative efforts by Canadian and American enforcement authorities led to the simultaneous execution of search warrants in both countries and the seizure of more than 63,000 pounds of illegally traded queen conch, involving Shone and other parties already convicted in separate proceedings in the United States and Canada.

Mr. Acosta commended the coordinated investigative efforts of the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service, NOAA Office for Law Enforcement, Food & Drug Administration and the Wildlife Officers of Environment Canada’s Wildlife Enforcement Branch, Wildlife Enforcement Division, in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Thomas Watts-FitzGerald.

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