|Ring accused of poaching sold fish to Monterey Bay Aquarium|
Posted by on February 10, 2006 at 00:07:21:|
In Reply to: Poachers charged in Leopard shark case posted by Max Bottomtime on February 09, 2006 at 15:05:46:
Shark suspects busted
The pastor of a San Leandro church and five other San Francisco Bay Area residents have been accused of poaching and illegally selling hundreds of juvenile leopard sharks.
Seven of 19 baby leopard sharks confiscated during the investigation died, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. The dozen sharks that survived were sent in the summer of 2004 to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where three are still on exhibit. Nine were released into the bay.
Aquarium spokesman Ken Peterson said staff members have cooperated with federal investigators since the aquarium was brought into the case a year and a half ago.
The indictment was returned last month and was unsealed Tuesday. It alleges that the pastor of a San Leandro church, four people involved in the aquarium industry and a fisherman violated state and federal laws when they captured 465 baby sharks in San Francisco Bay and sold them to buyers in the United States, the Netherlands and Great Britain.
The sharks usually ended up being purchased by individuals as pets, according to U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Luke Macaulay.
Charged in the indictment were Kevin Thompson, 48, pastor at the Bay Area Family Church in San Leandro; John Newberry, 34, of Hayward, an employee at Pan Ocean Aquarium Inc.; Ira Gass, 53, of Azusa, who ran Indorica Fish Imports; Hiroshi Ishikawa, 36, of San Leandro, a fisherman and a member of the Bay Area Family Church; Vincent Ng, 43, of Oakland, who owned Amazon Aquarium Inc. in Alameda; and Sion Lim, 39, of San Francisco, owner of Bayside Aquatics in Oakland.
California leopard sharks, which take up to 13 years to reach maturity and live as long as 30 years, are protected under state and federal laws. They were given extra protection in 1994 when California placed a minimum size limit of 36 inches for any commercial take of the sharks within the state.
The 19 seized sharks were all under 18 inches. They were shipped to Monterey from the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.
Aquarium staff had to keep their involvement with the investigation under wraps, Peterson said.
"We've been expecting the indictments from the moment we got the sharks in 2004," he said. "It actually became more of a surprise that it took as long as it did." But he said staff came to understand how complex the investigation became -- ultimately involving a law enforcement branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Game and wildlife agencies in Great Britain and the Netherlands.
Aquarium employees worked with federal authorities to help "make the case," providing photos and other information about what one investigator called "living pieces of evidence," said Peterson.
He said it is likely aquarium scientists will have to testify about the animals' condition if the case goes to trial.
The sharks were sent to Monterey because the aquarium has proper facilities to care for them and they are native to the Monterey Bay.
"They come to Elkhorn Slough to pup," Peterson said, and when grown move into the bay's kelp forests. Almost immediately, the aquarium placed nine of the sharks in an outdoor pool, where animals can swim into the bay when the tide rises.
"In the Great Tide Pool, anything can choose to leave or not," Peterson said. "At some point (the sharks) self-released."
Not all of the sharks rescued by federal agents survived. Three died in Chicago before they could be shipped west. Others arrived in Monterey weak from the stresses of travel, hunger and dehydration.
"We lost four early on," Peterson said.
Just the stress of being caught was enough for some, he said, because of the way they were taken -- some of the babies had been "ripped from their mothers' wombs."
The three sharks still at the aquarium are in fine shape, Peterson said.
"They're just little leopard sharks turning into bigger leopard sharks."
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