HONOLULU (KHON2) — The owner of a Japanese fishing vessel pleaded guilty on Friday to aiding and abetting the attempted export of shark fins out of Hawaii.

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Hamada Suisan Co. Ltd pleaded guilty, pursuant to a plea agreement, for violating the Lacey Act which prohibits trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been illegally taken, said the Department of Justice.

The company agreed to pay a fine of $126,000, forfeiture of $119,000 and a period of probation for three years.

Officials revealed that that the sentence represents the largest monetary penalty ever imposed for a federal shark finning case.

During the three-year probation period, Hamada must comply with a robust compliance plan developed in coordination with the Department of Justice and supervised by the probation officer.  The company will also be required to retire and relinquish their fishing license in Japan, which was previously associated with the Kyoshin Maru.

“Shark finning is inhumane, intolerable, and takes a very real toll on our precious ocean ecosystem,” said U.S. Attorney Kenji M. Price for the District of Hawaii.  “My office is committed to combatting this cruel practice by prosecuting to the fullest extent of the law anyone found to be trafficking in these types of shark fins.”

According to court documents, the case first arose in November of 2018 following discovery of approximately 962 shark fins from the checked luggage of fisherman working aboard the company’s vessel, the Kyoshin Maru.

When sharks were caught as bycatch by the Kyoshin Maru, the Justice Department said, the fishing master of the vessel allegedly directed the crew members to haul the shark into the vessel and kill the shark, instead of cutting the line and letting the shark swim free, in order to save the hook. 

In the course of the voyage, crew members reportedly harvested fins from approximately 300 sharks.

The court documents went on to reveal that the crew then traveled to Hawai’i in order to board a return flight departing from Honolulu International Airport. During routine screening, Transportation Security Administration officers discovered the shark fins in 10 of the fishermen’s checked luggage.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) seized the shark fins, which it later determined were worth as much as $57,850 on the black market.

“Shark finning is a cruel practice, prohibited by federal law, numerous states, including Hawaii, and multilateral bodies to which both the United States and Japan belong,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jonathan D. Brightbill for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “The sentence imposed today, and Japan’s related actions holding this Japanese company to account, reflects the seriousness of these offenses and the United States’ and international commitment to ending this practice.”

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