News and Press Releases

Seaside Aquaculture and Owner Must Pay for Killing Protected Species

Nov. 8, 2011

VICTORIA, Texas - Seaside Aquaculture Inc., a fish farm located in Palacios, Texas, and its owner Khan Vu have been sentenced for illegally killing approximately 90 brown pelicans, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today. U.S. District Judge John D. Rainey sentenced Vu and Seaside just a short time ago in federal court in Victoria to 18 months probation and ordered them to pay $40,000 to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation. Each was also fined $5000. 

“The culmination of this investigation jointly worked with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) special agents and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game wardens exemplifies the critical role law enforcement is in the protection of our natural resources,” said Nicholas Chavez, FWS special agent in charge, Southwest Region. “The sentencing imposed today sends a clear message to the commercial fish farming industry that abuses of service permits will not be tolerated.”

Vu and Seaside Aquaculture Inc. were indicted in April 2011 charged with one count of killing migratory non-game birds, that is, approximately 90 Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus Occidentalis) in violation of The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). In August 2011, following one-and-a-half days of trial testimony and approximately three-and-a-half hours of deliberation, a federal jury returned its verdict finding Vu and Seaside Aquaculture Inc. guilty of violating the MBTA.

The MBTA provides protection for Migratory Birds. The MBTA prohibits, unless permitted by regulations, to "pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture or kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, cause to be shipped, deliver for transportation, transport, cause to be transported, carry, or cause to be carried by any means whatever, receive for shipment, transportation or carriage, or export, at any time, or in any manner, any migratory bird, included in the terms of this Convention . . . for the protection of migratory birds . . . or any part, nest, or egg of any such bird." These rules attempt to maintain an equitable balance between protection and preservation of migratory birds and recreational opportunities afforded through sport hunting. The brown pelican is a non-game migratory bird as defined in Title 50, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 10.23.

During the trial, the jury learned that in October 2010 the FWS received a letter from a former contract worker of Seaside Aquaculture Inc. alleging that while employed at the fish farm he witnessed several employees, including Vu, illegally killing many species of birds. On Dec. 14, 2010, an FWS agent inspected the area around the fish farm and found and photographed several empty shot gun hulls and bird carcasses. Investigating agents secured a warrant to search the fish farm which was executed on Feb. 2, 2011, with the assistance of Texas Department of Wildlife Services game wardens. The agents found the carcasses of approximately 90 brown pelicans, 17 great blue herons, five great egrets, four black-crowned night herons, four turkey vultures, two osprey, two gulls and one scaup. Seaside’s employees denied shooting any birds; however, owner Vu admitted to shooting six pelicans to prevent them from eating his fish. At trial, and again at the sentencing hearing today, the defense unsuccessfully attempted to assert that the birds had died as a result of running into power lines.

The case was investigated by agents from the FWS and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Hugo R. Martinez.

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