Owner of Fife, Washington Seafood Processing Company Sentenced to Prison for Sea Cucumber Lacey Act Violation
Profited $1.5 Million by Purchasing Illegally Harvested Sea Cucumber
The owner of Orient Seafood Production of Fife, Washington, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to two years in prison, three years of supervised release and nearly $1.5 million in restitution for his scheme to overharvest and profit on illegally taken sea cucumbers, announced U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. HOON NAMKOONG, 62, pleaded guilty in April 2018, admitting 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 stolen sea cucumbers is nearly $1.5 million. At sentencing Chief U.S. District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez said, by creating the market for illegal harvesters NAMKOONG did “significant damage to sea cucumber populations and habitat that may take years to repair.”
“This defendant lined his pockets by purchasing and selling illegally harvested sea cucumbers equal to as much as 20 percent of the total allowed state-wide harvest,” said U.S. Attorney Hayes. “This illegal activity damages the health of the Puget Sound ecosystem by endangering the sustainability of the sea cucumber population. Illegal harvesting undermines quotas designed to protect the resource and keep the Sound healthy for our children and generations to come.”
According to records filed in the case, over portions of three harvesting seasons, 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 are violations 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 Asia, for a gain of nearly $1.5 million. NAMKOONG was ordered to pay $1,499,999 in restitution to the state and Tribal entities.
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.