Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Fisheries and Oceans Canada

October 30, 2009 15:22 ET

Fisheries and Oceans Canada: A Three Year Multi-Country DFO Investigation Around Threatened Northern Abalone Concludes Successfully

RICHMOND, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - Oct. 30, 2009) - The Conservation and Protection Intelligence and Investigation Services Unit from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) successfully concluded a three-year multi-country, multi-agency operation involving the illegal sale and possession of Northern abalone, a threatened species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). In Canada, harvesting this species is strictly prohibited and possession is illegal under the federal Fisheries Act and SARA.

On August 5, 2008 in Richmond Provincial Court, Wun Tai (Wendy) Li, manager of Richmond-based Solidstate Enterprises Canada Ltd., appeared before the Honourable Judge Ronald Fratkin for the illegal possession of an unspecified quantity of frozen Northern abalone found mixed with other species of abalone. Ms. Li pled guilty and was fined $25,000.

In a related case, on June 2, 2009 Momoji Seafood Packaging and Exporting Ltd. appeared in Richmond Provincial Court. The Honourable Judge Jane McKinnon accepted a guilty plea and ordered a fine of $35,500, directing $34,500 of that amount to DFO to promote conservation and protection of Northern abalone through scientific research. Momoji, which was found in possession of approximately 120 pounds of Northern abalone, was also prohibited from possessing any species of abalone for the next two years. Proceedings against the company manager, Tat Tun (Jacky) Tsui, were stayed.

These two companies were successfully brought to trial following a three-year multi-country, multi-agency investigation triggered in 2007, in part, by an alert regarding suspicious activity supplied by a Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) inspector. A team of DFO fishery officers spent months unraveling the complex trail of illegally harvested and illegally trafficked Northern abalone.

Members of DFO's Conservation and Protection Intelligence and Investigation Services Unit traveled to the United States and Mexico as part of the investigation, which also uncovered a related abalone smuggling operation at the U.S.-Mexico border near Tijuana. The case subsequently involved not only Canadian enforcement agencies—including the CBSA, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Province of British Columbia and DFO—but also led to international collaboration with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in California and Washington State, the State of California Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in California and Washington State, U.S. Customs, and authorities in Mexico.

In addition to the above prosecutions and abalone seizures, the investigation led to the discovery of a significant quantity of Northern abalone (around 750 pounds) in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. The animals were seized and taken out of circulation by DFO Intelligence and Investigation fishery officers and forfeited under court order. Molecular Genetics Research Scientists from DFO's Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo provided conclusive forensic DNA evidence for the Court that aided in successful prosecutions or guilty pleas on both sides of the border.

With the assistance of DFO Intelligence and Investigation unit and DNA evidence, the NMFS in San Diego successfully obtained a conviction in this operation in September 2009. An individual and company (Henry Chan and Zenith Trading) pled guilty to misdemeanor counts under the Lacey Act for the illegal possession of White abalone under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Mr. Chan received a U.S. $50,000 fine, $10,000 of which went into abalone research and education in the United States.

DFO acts to end illegal fishing activities and activities related to illegal sales and unlawful possession. As part of this work, the Department asks the general public for information on activities of this nature or any contravention of the Fisheries Act and Regulations. Anyone with information can call the toll-free reporting line at 1-800-465-4336.

Additional documents: Backgrounder

Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Backgrounder

BG-PR-09-014e

October 30, 2009

A THREE YEAR MULTI-COUNTRY DFO INVESTIGATION AROUND THREATENED NORTHERN ABALONE CONCLUDES SUCCESSFULLY

Conservation and Protection Intelligence and Investigation Services Unit, Fisheries and Oceans Canada:

Originally created in 1985, the Intelligence and Investigation Services Unit was designed to target large-scale investigations that cross many jurisdictions and international boundaries and require expertise and manpower not normally available to general duty fishery officers.

Using a complete range of enforcement tools, from covert operations and surveillance to intelligence-led enforcement, the 18-officer unit targets major players in the illegal distribution of fish and fish products.

Currently, the Intelligence and Investigation Services Unit officers are involved across the spectrum of enforcement activities, including the Regional Aerial Surveillance program, International Fishery enforcement (which involves high seas driftnet patrols in the North Pacific) and the boarding and inspection of foreign vessels in Canadian ports.

Northern Abalone:

Northern abalone, found along the Pacific Coast, is listed as a threatened species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).

The Northern abalone fisheries have been closed since 1990 to halt the decline of the existing wild population and reduce the risk of this species becoming extinct in British Columbia.

In 2009, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), an independent scientific group, recommended a change in SARA status of Northern abalone to "endangered."

Illegal harvesting (poaching) of the mollusc is considered the biggest factor affecting recovery of the species, and poaching and trafficking abalone is a serious offence under the Fisheries Act, which can result in fines of up to $500,000, a term of imprisonment of up to two years, or both.

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