LawFuel – Legal Announcement Service – R. Alexander Acosta, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, H. Jeff Radonski, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Office of Law Enforcement, Eddie McKissick, Resident Agent in Charge, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Anthony V. Mangione, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Office of Investigations, announced that defendants James Hanson, Jr., 44, of Bal Harbor, FL, Hanson Seafood, Inc., and J.R.J.T., Inc., both Florida corporations, were convicted and sentenced on September 22, 2008, of charges related to the illegal import of quantities of queen conch and spiny lobster from the Commonwealth of the Bahamas to the United States, which product had been harvested and exported in violation of Bahamian law, contrary to the Lacey Act, Title 16 , United States Code, Sections 3372(a)(2)(A) and 3373(d)(1)(A).
According to the allegations in the Information and statements in Court, in December 2005 James Hanson was intercepted by a Coast Guard patrol vessel and taken to the Coast Guard Base at Miami Beach. During a boarding and inspection, officers found more than 1,000 pounds of undeclared spiny lobster and approximately 340 pounds of queen conch, which had been purchased in the Bahamas. Hanson’s intention was to land the seafood in the United States and market it through Hanson Seafood, Inc., a company which he owned.
United States District Court Judge Joan Lenard, who accepted the guilty pleas from the defendants, imposed sentence during the same proceeding. James Hanson, who received the benefit of having cooperated with the government’s investigation, was sentenced to pay a criminal fine of $75,000, ordered to perform 300 hours of community service, and to serve a period of three year’s probation. He was also ordered to relinquish any claim to the proceeds of the seized product, which was valued at $13,930. Additionally, J.R.J.T., Inc., which is wholly owned by Hanson, was ordered to forfeit the boat used in the commission of the offense, a 2000, 37.8′ fiberglass hulled sport fishing vessel, “REDEEMED.” Hanson Seafood, Inc., also wholly owned by Hanson, is no longer an active business entity.
In imposing sentence, the Court took into consideration the pending donation by Hanson of approximately 223 acres of undeveloped property on Windley Key near Tavernier, Florida, to the State of Florida for preservation as a part of the Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park. That property, which is comprised of mixed hammock, wetlands, and mangrove, and the surrounding shallows, are prime breeding and nursery habitat for queen conch and spiny lobster, the species at issue in the case. Although not a condition of the resolution of the case, Hanson proposed the donation to State of Florida authorities to offset the consequences of his criminal offense.
Statute Law of the Bahamas, Revised Edition 2000, Chapter 244 Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction & Conservation), Section 21(1)(a), prohibits the sale and export of any fishery resource from the Commonwealth of the Bahamas except under and in accordance with the terms of a license granted by the Government of the Bahamas. None of the individuals or corporations involved in this matter ever received or possessed a lawfully issued licence from the Government of the Bahamas, to export spiny lobster or queen conch.
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 (“ESA”), 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 the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, by implementing domestic laws to effectuate its underlying goals.
CITES classifies protected species in its Appendices. Appendix II includes all species “which although not necessarily now threatened with extinction may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is subject to strict regulation in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival.” Accordingly, 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.
Mr. Acosta commended the coordinated investigative efforts of the NOAA Office For Law Enforcement, U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement which brought the investigation to a successful conclusion. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Thomas Watts-FitzGerald.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov. Related information regarding the investigation by Environment Canada may be found on www.ec.gc.ca