A Spanish fishing vessel owner charged with illegally importing over 26,000 kilos of Chilean sea-bass or Patagonian toothfish pleaded not guilty Thursday in his first appearance in a United States Florida court.
A federal judge set bond at half a million US dollars for Spanish citizen Antonio Vidal Pego. He was indicted along with the Uruguayan company Fadilur SA by a US grand jury last September. Vidal owns a large commercial fishing fleet.
The indictment in September marked the first time the US has brought criminal charges for illegal importation and sale of Chilean sea-bass. Vidal faces up to 35 years in prison and one million US dollars in fines if convicted on all counts, according to the US Justice Department.
Vidal and Fadilur SA attempted to import an estimated 53,000 pounds of sea-bass valued at nearly 315.000 US dollars from Singapore to Miami, according to the indictment. Vidal is also charged with obstruction of justice and false labeling of this species, which is known also as the Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides).
Harvesting and trade of Chilean sea-bass is regulated under the International Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, implemented in the US through the Antarctic Marine Living Resources Act. The treaty and implementing laws require that specific documentation must follow legally harvested toothfish from the point of harvest to the point of final import for consumption.
Mr. Vidal was arrested Wednesday after arriving at Miami International Airport. He was an international fugitive before his arrest. (FIS/MP).-