Charges Filed in Shark Fin Smuggling Case
The owner and officers of a Japanese-flagged fishing vessel were charged in federal court on Tuesday with aiding and abetting the trafficking and smuggling of 962 shark fins into and out of Hawaiʻi on Nov. 7, 2018.
The discovery was made when fishermen from the vessel tried to board flights at Honolulu International Airport. During routine screening, TSA officers discovered approximately 190 pounds of shark fins, worth as much as $57,850 on the black market, according to the US Department of Justice.
Court records indicate that the fishermen harvested fins from approximately 300 sharks, in some instances while the sharks were stunned but still alive, and discarded the finless carcasses into the ocean.
The fins were from silky sharks and bigeye thresher sharks which are protected; and oceanic whitetip sharks which are listed as threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the oceanic white tip shark has declined by approximately 80-95% across the Pacific Ocean since the mid-1990s.
The M.V. Kyoshin Maru No. 20 vessel was reportedly engaged in longline tuna fishing in the southern Pacific Ocean when the incident occurred. The US Justice Department reports that the officers were Japanese nationals and the fishermen were Indonesian nationals.
The 10 Indonesian fishermen were subsequently charged in a criminal complaint in United States v. Abdurahman, et. al., Mag No. 18-01253 (D. Haw. 2018), and are currently released on pretrial supervision.
The criminal complaint filed today brings charges against five additional defendants: Hamada Suisan Co., Ltd, the Japanese business that owned and operated the vessel; JF Zengyoren, a Japanese fishing cooperative to which the vessel belonged; Hiroyuki Kasagami, the Captain of the vessel; Toshiyuki Komatsu, the Fishing Master of the vessel; and Hiroshi Chiba, the vessel’s First Engineer. The three Japanese nationals charged were not arrested because they never entered the United States. Justice officials say they remain at large, presumably in Japan.
The charges filed today include four counts of aiding and abetting violations of the Lacey Act, which each carry a maximum term of 5 years imprisonment; three counts of aiding and abetting the Smuggling of Goods Into the United States, which each carry a maximum term of 20 years imprisonment; and four counts of aiding and abetting the attempted Smuggling of Goods From the United States, which each carry a maximum term of 10 years imprisonment.
The two corporate defendants each face a maximum fine of $500,000 per count, or $5.5 million. The three individual defendants each face a maximum fine of $250,000 per count, or $2.75 million. The charges in the criminal complaint are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
If the defendants are ultimately convicted of any offense, the sentencing will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
In announcing the charges, US Attorney for the District of Hawaiʻi Kenji M. Price said, “Shark finning is unlawful and takes a very real toll on our precious ocean ecosystem. My office is committed to combatting this practice by prosecuting to the fullest extent of the law anyone found to be trafficking in shark fins.”
United States laws prohibit, within US jurisdiction: the removal of any fins of any shark at sea; the possession of such fins aboard a fishing vessel that are not attached to the corresponding carcass; and the transfer or landing of any such detached fin. Some of these laws implement US obligations under international conventions. In addition, the laws of the State of Hawaiʻi make it unlawful for any person to possess, sell, offer for sale, trade, or distribute shark fins. Due in part to the over-harvest of sharks, some species of shark—including three species found among the fins at issue in this case—are protected under the CITES Convention.
This case is being investigated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement, with assistance from: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Law Enforcement; Homeland Security Investigations; US Customs and Border Protection; the US Postal Inspection Service; and the US Coast Guard. It is being prosecuted by Assistant US Attorney Marc A. Wallenstein, US Attorney’s Office for the District of Hawaiʻi, and Senior Counsel for Wildlife Programs Elinor Colbourn, Environmental Crimes Section, US Department of Justice. The prosecution team is coordinating with the US Department of State on this matter.