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Fishing Boat Owner Pleads Guilty In Shark Finning Case

U.S. Attorney's Office via AP
FILE - This Nov. 28, 2018, file photo provided by the United States Attorney's Office and introduced as evidence in court in Honolulu shows some of the hundreds of shark fins seized from a Japanese fishing boat.

A business that owns a Japanese fishing boat pleaded guilty Thursday in a case involving Indonesian crew members who cut fins from sharks.

Hamada Suisan Co. Ltd. agreed to pay a $126,000 fine and forfeit another $119,000 because of an investigation that found shark fins in crewmembers' luggage in 2018.

It’s against U.S. law to remove the fins of sharks at sea. Prosecutors say the fishermen harvested fins from sharks that were still alive, then discarded their carcasses into the ocean. Fins are a pricey delicacy often used in soups.

Some of the fins were from oceanic whitetip sharks, which are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, prosecutors said. Other fins were from silky sharks and bigeye thresher sharks, which are also protected.

In 2018, 10 Indonesian fishermen working on the longline tuna-fishing vessel were arrested in Hawaii and charged with trying to smuggle nearly 1,000 shark fins from the U.S. to Indonesia.

The fishermen later pleaded guilty to a lesser, misdemeanor charge of knowingly attempting to export shark fins. A judge sentenced them to the five days they already served in jail.

They were headed home via Honolulu when airport security workers found shark fins in their luggage, according to court documents.

Last month, Hamada Suisan agreed to plead guilty to aiding and abetting the attempted exporting of the shark fins, according to court records. A lawyer representing the company entered the guilty plea in U.S. District Court in Honolulu Thursday. Afterward, U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright imposed a sentence that included the agreed-upon fine and forfeiture amount.

It's the largest criminal monetary penalty in a federal shark finning case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc Wallenstein said.

The company, also known as Hamada Suisan Kabushiki Kaisha, said in a court filing that it has started implementing requirements of a corporate compliance plan that includes new training and enhanced cooperation with regulators to prevent shark finning on its one remaining vessel.

“HSKK is a relatively small Japanese fishing company and has suffered significant financial setbacks as a result of COVID-19. HSKK has sold all but one of its fishing vessels and has laid off its fishing employees,” the company said. “HSKK is currently in the process of deciding whether to wind down its fishing operations entirely.”

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