Seafood NewsThis section provides seafood news related to seafood industries around the world.
Updated: February 13, 2011
Seafood consumers and the law-abiding fishermen who catch that seafood gained a big victory in February, 2011, when a complex NOAA Office of Law Enforcement investigation into conspiracy, misbranding and smuggling resulted in two guilty pleas in federal court.
This case is the latest of three Lacey Act investigations in NOAA Office of Law Enforcement’s southeast division that resulted in guilty pleas in January.
Boxes of frozen fillets of catfish of the genus Pangasius, also called basa, swai or sutchi, were allegedly imported into the United States from Vietnam and falsely labeled as sole to avoid anti-dumping duties. These were seized upon entry into the United States, some by NOAA Office of Law Enforcement and some by Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Two defendants pleaded guilty Jan. 24 in Mobile, Ala., to 13 felony offenses for their roles in purchasing and then re-selling farm-raised Asian catfish and Lake Victoria perch falsely labeled as grouper, sole or snapper; selling foreign farm-raised shrimp falsely labeled as U.S. wild caught shrimp and selling shrimp that falsely claimed to be larger and more expensive than they actually were; and for buying fish they knew had been illegally imported into the United States. Some of the fish tested positive for malachite green and Enrofloxin, both of which are considered health hazards and banned from U.S. food products.
The Lacey Act makes it unlawful for a person to falsely identify any fish that has been, or is intended to be, imported, sold, purchased or received from any foreign country or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.
The investigation started in June 2005 when NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement agents discovered that Vietnamese catfish were being illegally imported into the U.S. labeled as sole, then distributed as grouper and sole and sold to wholesale customers, including supermarkets and restaurants.
“Anti-dumping” duties went into effect on Pangasius in January 2003, after an investigation by the Department of Commerce established that products were being sold in the United States at less than fair value, and therefore was injuring domestic catfish producers.
The defendants also bought Lake Victoria perch and re-labeled it as the more expensive grouper or snapper, and marketed those to higher-end restaurants in Alabama and Florida; took foreign-bought shrimp and re-labeled it as product of the United States; and took expired oysters and re-dated their tags.
The maximum penalty for each violation of the Lacey Act includes up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, while the maximum penalty for each misbranding count includes to up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Two other southeast division investigations of mislabeling also concluded in January. On Jan. 12, a defendant pleaded guilty to four counts of conspiring to commit Lacey Act violations. From January through February 2010, Northern Fisheries Ltd. engaged in a scheme through which involved false repackaging and labeling of 1,500 pounds of frozen chum salmon fillets.
The fillets, which were a “Product of China,” were re-labeled as being chum salmon fillets, “Product of Russia.” In addition, defendants pled guilty to a scheme to re-label more than a million pounds of less marketable shrimp from Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, as being from Panama, Ecuador and Honduras. The shrimp had an estimated retail value of between $250,000 and $1 million.
On Jan. 20, in an unrelated case, MKG Provisions Inc., of Miami, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year of probation intended to provide oversight of the company’s implementation of a plan to prevent recurrence of the offense and ordered to pay a $20,000 criminal fine, for one count of violating the Lacey Act by mislabeling imported haddock.
In June 2010, MKG purchased 10,600 pounds of haddock from a Boston-area supplier that had imported the haddock from China. That haddock was re-boxed and re-labeled as “Product of USA” before selling it to a south Florida customer.
source: NOAA press release