CORAL GABLES SEAFOOD FIRM PLEADS GUILTY TO ILLEGAL IMPORTATION OF CHILEAN SEA BASS
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and H. Jeff Radonski, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Office of Law Enforcement, announced that PESCANOVA INC., d/b/a PESCANOVA USA, ("Pescanova”), a Coral Gables-based seafood company, pled guilty today to charges related to the attempted import into the United States of approximately 96,984 kilograms of frozen toothfish (Dissostichus spp.) from Argentina, in violation of the Antarctic Marine Living Resources Convention Act ("Antarctic Act"), 16 U.S.C. § 2431, et sec. and 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 2009 Pescanova was the importer of record of four cargo containers of Patagonian toothfish, known commonly in the market-place as Chilean Sea Bass, which were landed at Port Everglades, Florida. Pescanova’s intention was to market the product in the United States. The declared wholesale value of the toothfish was approximately $ 1.2 million.
U.S. District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro, who accepted the guilty plea from Pescanova, set scheduled sentencing for November 17, 2010 at 10:00 am. Pescanova faces a possible criminal fine of up to $500,000, or twice the pecuniary gain or loss associated with the relevant conduct, as well as a period of corporate probation of up to five years. In connection with a parallel civil forfeiture action involving the toothfish, Pescanova agreed in the plea agreement accepted by the Court to consent to the forfeiture of the toothfish, value of the toothfish and/or proceeds of the sale of the toothfish to the United States.
Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) is a long-lived, slow-growing, deep sea species of fish found along shelves and ledges adjacent to islands and landmasses in the Southern Ocean between South America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Antarctic waters. Along with its cousin, the Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni), these species are internationally regarded as amongst the most over-fished and illegally harvested species due to the high market demand for the fish, and the resultant high dockside prices. This conduct is defined by the Food and Agricultural organization of the United Nations as “IUU”: that is, Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing.
The United States is a Party to the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources ("Convention"), which seeks to conserve Antarctic marine living resources, including toothfish. The Convention also established a Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources ("CCAMLR"), whose functions include formulation and adoption of Conservation Measures necessary for the fulfilment of the objectives of the Convention. These Measures are generally binding on all Members of CCAMLR.
In 2003, CCAMLR adopted Conservation Measure 10-05, which implements a catch documentation system for toothfish. The purpose of the documentation system is to track toothfish from harvest to country of final destination so that CCAMLR members can determine if the fish was caught in a manner consistent with CCAMLR conservation measures.
The United States implements the Convention, and the binding Conservation Measures, through the Antarctic Act. According to statements made in court, Pescanova violated regulations issued under the Antarctic Act by failing to submit a preapproval application to the NOAA National Seafood Inspection Lab for the four cargo containers in the shipment at least 15 working days before the anticipated date importations required; failed to obtain preapproval prior to importation; and submitted belated applications that failed to identify the quantity of toothfish to be imported, did not provide appropriate Flag state confirmation numbers for each container, and failed to associate each container with a valid DCD, all in violation of the Antarctic Act regulations in 50 C.F.R. §300.
Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement. The case is being 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 http://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 http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.