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Fishing Boat Captain Pleads Guilty and Is Fined For Attempted Sale of Shark Fins

Friday, December 6, 2013

HONOLULU – Matthew Brian Case, age 46, a fishing boat captain formerly based in Hawaii, pled guilty on December 6, 2013 in federal court for attempting to sell shark fins to a Honolulu restaurant, a violation of the federal Lacey Act. Case entered the plea before United States Magistrate Judge Kevin S.C. Chang, who sentenced him to a $100 fine.

Florence T. Nakakuni, United States Attorney for the District of Hawaii, said it is a violation of federal law to sell, or attempt to sell, shark fins, if a person knows that the fins were removed from the bodies of sharks at sea, and then possessed aboard a fishing vessel. According to information produced in court, Case was the captain of the “Hokuao,” a long-line fishing vessel which operated out of Honolulu. During a month-long fishing trip that began in February 2013, Case instructed his crew to engage in “shark finning,” which involved catching sharks, removing their fins aboard the vessel, and disposing of the carcasses in the ocean. Case concealed approximately 100 shark fins in a hidden compartment in the vessel, and transported them back to Honolulu.

During court proceedings, Case admitted trying to sell the shark fins to a restaurant in the Ala Moana area on March 8, 2013. According to Nakakuni, Case thought the fins could be sold for approximately $600, but the restaurant declined to buy the illegal fins. Case, who now lives in Mexico, voluntarily appeared in Honolulu to answer the criminal charge. During arguments presented to the court, the government recommended a $100 fine, based on various factors, including Case’s immediate and continued cooperation with authorities, lack of profit, and willingness to return from Mexico to enter the plea.

United States Attorney Nakakuni said that “shark finning” is prohibited not only by the Lacey Act, but also by the Federal Shark Conservation Act of 2010. That act prohibits persons subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to remove fins from sharks at sea, to possess such unattached fins in their vessels, and then bring the fins to land.

The prosecution resulted from an investigation conducted by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, Office of Law Enforcement, with assistance from the Coast Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- Homeland Security Investigations, and the State of Hawaii Department of Conservation and Resources Enforcement. The prosecution was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Brady.

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