Thousands of Juvenile Leopard Sharks Poached from San Francisco Bay
OAKLAND – LAWFUEL – US Legal News – United States Attorney Kevin V. Ryan announced that Kevin Thompson, 48, of San Leandro, California, was sentenced yesterday afternoon to one year and one day in prison and ordered to pay $100,000 restitution for his role in catching thousands of undersized juvenile leopard sharks out of the San Francisco Bay and selling them to aquarium dealers in the U.S., the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.
U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan stated, “This case exemplifies this office’s commitment to protecting the wildlife in the San Francisco Bay from illegal poaching. We will use our collaborative relationships with law enforcement agencies both here abroad to investigate those who are involved in smuggling local wildlife on the international black market. I thank all of the law enforcement agencies whose cooperative effort made this prosecution possible.”
This sentencing is the result of a nearly two-year long investigation conducted by NOAA Fisheries Service’s Office of Law Enforcement in conjunction with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish & Game, the United Kingdom’s Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Fish Health Inspectorate and The Netherlands General Inspection Service (AID).
Thompson, the pastor of the Bay Area Family Church, Holy Spirit Association for Unification of World Christianity (the “Church”), in San Leandro, was indicted on January 24, 2006, and pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Lacey Act on September 9, 2006. The indictment alleged that Thompson, was part of a scheme to harvest thousands of undersized (under 36 inches in length) California leopard sharks from the San Francisco Bay, and then sell and ship the juvenile sharks to pet trade distributors throughout the U.S. and internationally in violation of the Lacey Act. Under the Lacey Act it is a federal offense to knowingly sell or purchase fish, wildlife or plants that were captured in violation of any underlying law. The Lacey Act charges specifically incorporate California State law, which places a minimum size limit of 36 inches for any commercial harvest of California leopard sharks.
NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement Special Agent Roy Torres stated, “We will investigate those who break the wildlife laws that protect the habitat and species of the San Francisco Bay. This successful prosecution is the result of the support and collaboration of all the agencies that were involved in this investigation.”
The indictment specifically charged that approximately 465 juvenile leopard sharks were sold to companies in Miami; Chicago; Houston; Romulus, Michigan; Milford, Connecticut; the Netherlands; and the United Kingdom.
The following individuals were also charged and have pleaded guilty in connection with the January 2006 indictment:
·John Newberry, 34, of Hayward, California, worked at Pan Ocean Aquarium Inc. and was a member of the Church. Newberry is scheduled to be sentenced on February 2, 2007, at 1:30 p.m. before U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken.
·Ira Gass, 53, of Azusa, California, is a marine aquaria dealer in Azusa, California, who operated Indorica Fish Imports, an aquaria business. Gass is scheduled to be sentenced on February 5, 2007, at 2:30 p.m. before U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken.
·Hiroshi Ishikawa, 36, of San Leandro, was a member of the Church and was sentenced on October 11, 2006, to three years probation, and $40,000 restitution.
·Vincent Ng, 43, of Oakland, owned Amazon Aquarium Inc. in Alameda, California. Ng is scheduled to be sentenced on February 9, 2007, before Magistrate Judge Wayne D. Brazil in Oakland.
·Sion Lim, 39, of San Francisco, California, owned Bayside Aquatics, located in Oakland California, and was sentenced on June 6, 2006, to one year probation, a $5,000 fine, and $20,000 in restitution.
California leopard sharks are a species of shark within the Triakidae family and are commonly found in ocean waters along the Oregon, California, and Baja Mexico coasts. Juvenile leopard sharks are commonly found in bays and estuaries from the California/Oregon border south to Baja, Mexico. Major pupping areas where young California leopard sharks are born are found within San Francisco and Monterey Bays as well as the southern California coast. The pupping season extends from March through July with a peak between April and May. Pups are born live and are approximately 10 inches in length.
In January 1994, California leopard sharks were afforded extra protection under California State law when the California Department of Fish & Game Code placed a minimum size limit of 36 inches for any commercial take of the species within California jurisdiction. This size limit was implemented because the California leopard shark is a slow growing species which does not reach sexual maturity until it is between 7 to 13 years of age. The species may live as long as 30 years. Because of these factors and others, including increased commercial and sport fishing, California State wildlife authorities have established these management measures to ensure the species’ ability to maintain healthy stocks in the wild.
Both the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California, collaborated with and assisted federal wildlife agents and Illinois Conservation officers in the transport and care of 19 baby leopard sharks confiscated during the course of the investigation. The baby sharks, which ranged in size from eight-and-a-half to 17 ½ inches, were shipped to California in July 2004 by Shedd Aquarium staff and received further care at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Nine were ultimately returned to the wild in Monterey Bay in the summer of 2004. Three remain on exhibit at Monterey Bay Aquarium; seven died either at the Shedd Aquarium or Monterey Bay Aquarium because of their poor condition at the time they were confiscated.
Kevin Thompson is scheduled to surrender into custody on March 19, 2007.
The investigation began in Miami, when a pet trade distributor was caught with 18 undersized leopard sharks from California and was convicted in 2003 of one count in violation of the Lacey Act and received an 18 month sentence. The Chicago U.S. Attorney’s Office convicted two individuals with misdemeanor violations of the Lacey Act as well, and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles has also prosecuted individuals in connection with this case. The investigation led back to the Bay Area where the principal suppliers were located.
Maureen Bessette and Stacey Geis are the Assistant U.S. Attorneys prosecuting the case with the assistance of Cynthia Daniel and Ana Guerra.
A copy of this press release may be found on the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s website at www.usdoj.gov/usao/can.
Electronic court filings and further procedural and docket information are available at https://ecf.cand.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/login.pl.
Judges’ calendars with schedules for upcoming court hearings can be viewed on the court’s website at www.cand.uscourts.gov.
All press inquiries to the U.S. Attorney’s Office should be directed to Luke Macaulay at (415) 436-6757 or by email at [email protected]