Owner of Fife, Washington Seafood Processing Company Pleads Guilty to Sea Cucumber Lacey Act Violation
Intentionally Hid Amount of Sea Cucumbers Purchased Resulting in Overharvest
The owner of Orient Seafood Production of Fife, Washington, pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, announced U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. HOON NAMKOONG admits that between August 2014, and November 2016, he conspired with others to underreport the amount of sea cucumbers purchased for processing by approximately 250,000 pounds. The post-processing market value of the sea cucumbers is nearly $1.5 million. HOON NAMKOONG is scheduled for sentencing in front of Chief U. S. District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez on July 20, 2018.
According to records filed in the case, HOON NAMKOONG purchased sea cucumbers from both tribal and non-tribal fishers in the Puget Sound region. Sea cucumbers are classified as shellfish, and harvests are regulated by both Washington State and Tribal authorities. To protect the resource, the harvests are tracked by fish tickets signed by both the fisher and the purchaser. HOON NAMKOONG admits that he falsified fish tickets, failed to prepare fish tickets or retain confirmation of fish tickets submitted by third parties, and frequently paid fishers in cash for their sea cucumbers so there would be no financial record of the total amount of sea cucumbers taken. Falsifying fish tickets, and processing and selling in interstate or foreign commerce illegally obtained shellfish is a violation of the Lacey Act, the federal law that prohibits illegal trafficking in wildlife, fish, and plants.
HOON NAMKOONG’s company processed the sea cucumbers and sold and transported them to wholesale seafood buyers in both the U.S. and in Asia, for a gain of nearly $1.5 million.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, HOON NAMKOONG will pay up to $1,499,999 in restitution. Prosecutors agreed to recommend no more than 30 months in prison for HOON NAMKOONG. The ultimate sentence will be up to Chief Judge Martinez.
Conspiracy to Violate the Lacey Act is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The case was investigated by the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Matthew Diggs and Seth Wilkinson.