Six From Bay Area Accused Of Shark Harvesting

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Posted by on February 10, 2006 at 00:08:31:

In Reply to: Poachers charged in Leopard shark case posted by Max Bottomtime on February 09, 2006 at 15:05:46:

(AP) DAN GOODIN A church pastor, four men in the aquarium industry and a commercial fisherman have been accused of illegally catching and selling hundreds of juvenile leopard sharks.

An indictment Wednesday charged the men with selling 465 leopard sharks that were too small to harvest to pet distributors throughout the United States, and in The Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

California leopard sharks, which can take 13 years to reach maturity and live as long as 30 years, are protected under a state law that prohibits the commercial catching of specimens under 36 inches long.

The indictment alleges that federal wildlife agents seized sharks ranging from 8 1/2-inches to 17 1/2-inches in length and was based on a federal statute that incorporates the state law.

The leopard shark's gray body and black bars make it a "particularly attractive" species, said Christina Slager, a curator at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

"In general sharks are struggling in the wild, and leopard sharks are no different," Slager said. "If these animals aren't allowed to reach an age or size where they can reproduce before they are removed from the environment, that has drastic implications for future generations."

Kevin Thompson, 48, pastor of the Bay Area Family Church in San Leandro, was charged along with John Newberry, 34, of Hayward; Ira Gass, 53, of Azusa; Hiroshi Ishikawa, 36, of San Leandro, Vincent Ng, 43, of Oakland; and Sion Lim, 39, of San Francisco.

The six defendants were arrested on Tuesday, when the indictment was unsealed. Two pleaded not guilty. The Associated Press was unable to reach the other four. They face maximum penalties of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and possible requirement to pay restitution for each count, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.

Seven of the 19 baby leopard sharks confiscated during the two-year investigation died, the U.S. Attorney's office said. Three are on exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and nine were returned to the wild in the summer of 2004.

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