LAWFUEL – Press Release Service – R. Alexander Acosta, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida and Hal Robbins, Special Agent in Charge, NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement, Southern Region, announced that defendants, Anchor Seafood, Inc., a Miami based seafood company, and Antonio Martinez-Malo, 56, and Liliana Martinez-Malo, 46, both of Miami, were sentenced today in Miami Federal District Court in connection with a conspiracy that imported more than 16,500 pounds of undersized spiny lobster from Jamaica to the United States all in violation of the Lacey Act, Title 16, United States Code, Sections 3372 and 3373, prohibiting such imports, and in violation of the anti-smuggling provisions of Title 18, United States Code, Section 545. All three defendants were charged with conspiring over a two year period to enter frozen spiny lobster tails valued in excess of $229,000 into the United States contrary to the laws of Jamaica and the State of Florida. United States District Court Judge Jose E. Martinez sentenced Anchor Seafood, Inc. to pay a criminal fine of $50,000 and serve a five year term of probation. Antonio Martinez-Malo was sentenced to 21 months of imprisonment, a $5,000 fine, and a three year term of supervised release, while Liliana Martinez-Malo received a prison sentence of one year and a day, a fine of $3,000, and a three year term of supervised release.
According to the Indictment and a detailed statement of facts presented in Court, between January 2000 and January 2001, the defendants were involved in more than 40 shipments of frozen lobster tail, harvested in Jamaica and destined for a distribution company in Norfolk, Virginia. Since 1976, Jamaica has placed limits on the size of spiny lobster caught in its waters or brought ashore there, in order to protect that segment of its domestic fisheries from over-fishing and collapse of the species by loss of the reproductive stock. Jamaica’s legal minimum size standard of a 7.62 cm carapace equates scientifically to a tail weight of 4.33 ounces.
Spiny lobsters, which occur in the waters ranging from Brazil to Florida, are a significant economic resource for both commercial and non-commercial harvesters. In order to insure that spiny lobsters are not extirpated or driven to extinction over part or all of their range, many jurisdictions have enacted conservation measures, including the State of Florida and Jamaica, involving the imposition of size and/or weight limits. Lobster must reach a certain size and age before they are able to reproduce. Harvesting of the specie in quantity before that size is reached can cause the stocks to “crash” and lead to extinction.
According to statements in Court, Anchor and the Martinez-Malos, in concert with others, including a company in Kingston, Jamaica, known as DYC Fishing, Ltd., devised a scheme to mis-label and ship undersized lobster to the United States using a coding system not recognized in legitimate industry practice. Shipments were labeled as “5 OZ A,” “5 OZ B,” and “5 OZ C,” to suggest that the tails were at least 5 ounces in weight and to conceal the fact that those boxes held 2, 3, and 4-ounce tails; all below the legal limit for processing and trade under Jamaican and Florida law, which each require a minimum carapace size of 3 inches. The government’s evidence also included statements from a former conspirator which revealed that Liliana Martinez-Malo explained the false coding scheme to an officer of the Virginia company in early 2000, and explained this procedure was necessary to avoid detection of the undersized tails upon importation into Florida.
Mr. Acosta commended the investigative efforts of the National Marine Fisheries Service. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Thomas Watts-FitzGerald and Diane Patrick.