Broward Company Pleads Guilty and is Sentenced for Illegal Trafficking of Marine Life
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Otha Easley, Acting Special Agent in Charge, NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement, and David Pharo, Resident Agent in Charge U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Miami, announced that Aquatic Trading Company, Inc. (ATC), a Florida corporation based in Pompano Beach, entered a guilty plea and was sentenced yesterday in federal district court in Miami for conspiring to harvest, transport, and sell juvenile nurse sharks and angelfish, knowing the fish were taken, possessed, transported, sold, and intended to be sold in violation of the laws and regulations of the State of Florida, contrary to the federal Lacey Act, Title 16, United States Code, Sections 3372(a)(2)(A), and 3373(d)(1) and (2), all in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.
ATC was sentenced by Senior U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King, who had earlier accepted ATC’s guilty plea to the criminal charge. The company was placed on court-supervised probation for three years, ordered to pay a criminal fine of $3,000, and ordered to surrender to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and to the United States Fish & Wildlife Service all licenses, permits, and endorsements issued to or held by the company. Two co-defendants in the case, Walter R. Bloecker and Lila M. Bloecker had entered guilty pleas to the same charge before Judge King on April 18, 2013, and each been sentenced to a period of 90 days home confinement, followed by a one year term of probation.
According to the indictment and statements in court, the defendants were involved in the illegal harvest of juvenile nurse sharks (Ginglymosthoma cirratum) and a variety of oversized angelfish (Pomocanthus arcuatus, Holocanthus bermudensis, and Holocanthus ciliaris), from around as early as June 2012 through October 2012. Harvesting of the fish was arranged through telephone calls between ATC’s employees and an individual in the Florida Keys. Walter Bloecker advised the harvester that he could conceal the illegal source of the sharks by using false paperwork to make it appear the sharks had been imported from Nicaragua. Neither ATC nor the harvester held the required permits for harvesting nurse shark pups for commercial purposes. The illegally acquired sharks were, according to the indictment and admissions in court, harvested from Florida State waters in the Florida Keys and marketed by telephone to a retailer in Michigan. The sharks were shipped to the Michigan-based buyer by commercial air cargo.
Likewise, Lila and Walter Bloecker engaged in business conversations with the Michigan dealer, to arrange the sale of oversized angelfish listed on a weekly inventory sales guide mailed to potential customers. The angelfish, also harvested in the Florida Keys, were sold and shipped to Michigan.
Florida Administrative Code, Section 68B-24.005, which addresses the commercial harvest of sharks from the waters of the state, provides in relevant part that any person harvesting sharks in or from the waters of the state for commercial purposes or sells any shark harvested from such waters must possess a valid federal annual vessel permit for sharks; may only sell to a holder of a valid Atlantic shark dealer permit issued pursuant to 50 C.F.R. §635.4; and that no wholesale dealer, as defined in Florida Statutes Section 379.362(1), may purchase sharks, or any part thereof, unless in possession of a valid federal Atlantic shark dealer permit and without confirming that the seller possesses a valid Florida saltwater products license and the federal licenses and permits specified in the Code Section.
Florida Administrative Code, Section 68B-42.004, “Size Limits” provides in relevant part that in all state waters no person may harvest angelfish with a total length outside of the limits specified for the individual species, specifically a minimum of one-and-one-half inches and a maximum of eight inches for Gray angelfish (P. arcuatus) and French angelfish (P. Paru); and a minimum of one-and-three-quarters inches and a maximum of eight inches for Blue angelfish (H. bermudensis) and Queen angelfish (H. ciliaris).”
Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the NOAA Office for Law Enforcement and the Fish & Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas Watts-FitzGerald and Antonia Barnes.
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.