Wildlife Officers Break-Up Major Endangered Species Smuggling

Canadian and U.S. Wildlife Officers Break-Up Major Endangered Species Smuggling Ring-Record-Breaking 27 Metric Tonnes of Meat Confiscated -from USFWS Montreal,

  • By: Ted Williams
Canadian and U.S. Wildlife Officers Break-Up Major Endangered Species Smuggling Ring-Record-Breaking 27 Metric Tonnes of Meat Confiscated

-from USFWS

Montreal, September 26, 2007 - Environment Canada's Wildlife Enforcement Division along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries officers have dismantled a major smuggling organization of queen conch meat, an internationally protected endangered species. The smuggling operation is believed to have been responsible for illegally importing and/or exporting 119,978 kilograms (263,953 lbs, the equivalent of nearly seven fully loaded semi trailers) of queen conch (Strombus gigas) meat from several Caribbean and South American countries to Canada and the United States.

Between November and December 2006, over 27 metric tonnes of falsely declared queen conch meat were detained by Environment Canada wildlife officers: in Montreal, 9,886 kilograms (21,750 lbs.), and Halifax, 17,672 kilograms (38,880 lbs.) - the largest ever confiscations of smuggled endangered species in this country. As well, 955 kilograms (2,100 lbs.) were seized by U.S. officials in Buffalo, NY in March 2006.

According to documents filed in Canadian and American courts in September 2007, it is alleged that between 2004 and 2006, 119,978 kilograms of protected queen conch meat from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Honduras and Colombia was shipped to Canada using false descriptions to avoid detection by officials. Once in Canada, the meat was either sold on the local market or re-packaged - sometimes as 'whelk meat', a non-endangered cold water species - from where it was shipped to the United States. Charges have been laid in Canada and the U.S. against persons and companies located in Florida, British Columbia and Nova Scotia. The investigation is continuing.

Twelve charges under the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA) were laid against Pacific Marine Union Corp. of Vancouver, BC and its CEO, Zamorro Gabriel Shone, also of Vancouver, BC. First appearance in Vancouver Provincial Court for both accused is scheduled for 9:00 a.m. on October 10, 2007. No plea has been entered pending first appearance in court. One charge for unlawfully importing as well as one for exporting queen conch contrary to the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA) have also been laid against Placeres and Sons Seafood Inc., Ramon Placeres and Janitse Martinez. A first court date has been set for November 6, 2007 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Under Canadian law, those charged are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Based on average weight per specimen, the meat of between 798,000 and 1.05 million individual conchs were illegally imported into and/or exported from Canada. DNA testing was used to positively identify the detained shipments from 2006 as being queen conch.

Queen conch, also known as pink conch, is protected under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Operation Shell Game, an 18-month long investigation, involved federal wildlife officers in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and Florida. Canadian and U.S. border officials also contributed to the investigation.

CITES is an international agreement that regulates the trade of certain wild animal and plant species, including their parts, organs and derived products. In Canada, CITES is implemented by the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act. Under that Act, offences are punishable upon conviction to a maximum fine of $300,000 or imprisonment up to five years, or both. In the United States, the Lacey Act provides for penalties upon conviction of up to five years imprisonment and fines up to twice the profit made, in this case over $1 million U.S. dollars.

Environment Canada and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are responsible for enforcing each country's federal laws concerning wildlife trade including endangered and invasive species as well as protecting species at risk, migratory birds, and areas protected for wildlife. To report the smuggling or trafficking of endangered species or any infraction of federal wildlife law, the public is invited to contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at (404) 679-7057 or Environment Canada's Wildlife Enforcement Division toll free at 1-800-463-4311.