Estremar SA, an Argentine company formerly known as ASC South America SA, last week pleaded guilty to violating federal anti-fish and wildlife trafficking law by importing and attempting to sell Patagonian toothfish, often marketed by the trade name Chilean seabass, without the documentation required to show it was legally harvested.
Specifically, Estremar admitted that in March 2002, it knowingly imported into the United States and attempted to sell over 30,000 pounds of Patagonian toothfish.
The company admitted that it reasonably should have known that the toothfish had been harvested and transported in violation of federal law because the amount imported was in excess of the amount it could legally import with the documentation accompanying the shipment.
After accepting the plea US Magistrate Judge Robert B. Collings immediately sentenced Estremar to the terms of its plea agreement with the United States.
The guilty plea was entered to charges under the Lacey Act, which prohibits trade in fish and wildlife that has been taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of a state, federal or foreign underlying law.
A plea agreement requires Estremar to pay a fine of US$75,000 (which it has already paid) and to make a community service donation of US$10,000 to a non-profit organization working on toothfish conservation within the next 30 days. In addition, as part of a proposed civil action, Estremar will forfeit assets of US$250,000, including more than US$158,000 that represents the value of unlawfully imported toothfish seized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Fisheries Enforcement (the National Marine Fisheries Service) in the Boston area during the investigation of this case.
Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) and Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsonii), marketed worldwide as Chilean seabass, are slow-growing, deep sea species of fish found throughout large areas of the sub-Antarctic oceans. They can live approximately 40 years and breed relatively late in life. The Antarctic toothfish is found only in very southern latitudes and alongside the Antarctica icepack and reaches a smaller maximum length than the Patagonian toothfish. Chilean seabass has been the subject of international conservation efforts in the face of increased fishing pressure from both legal and pirate fishing.
The harvest and trade of Chilean seabass is regulated under the international Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, implemented in the United States through the Antarctic Marine Living Resources Act. The treaty and implementing laws, set forth in detail in the charging document, require specific documentation to follow legally harvested toothfish from the time it is caught until it reaches the country will it will be consumed.
The investigation of this case was lead by special agents of the NOAA, Fisheries Enforcement. The case is being prosecuted by the US Attorney's Office, District of Massachusetts and the Environmental Crimes Section of the US Department of Justice. (COLTO)