Shark Finners First to Plead Guilty Under New Law

Two crew members of a Japanese flagged fishing vessel in Guam pleaded guilty to shark finning in federal court Thursday. Their guilty pleas made them the first people arrested, charged, and convicted for criminal violations of the Lacey Act with underlying violations of the Shark Finning Prohibition Act in the United States since the shark finning ban was implemented in 2002. Cresento Bacaling and Conchito Cagas, Jr. admitted that they offloaded about 520 pieces of shark fins from their fishing vessel while in Apra Harbor, Guam on July 13, 2004. The two men were arrested three days later.

With their guilty pleas, Bacaling and Cagas admitted that they attempted to smuggle the shark fins out of the port in Guam in an attempt to transport the shark fins to the Philippines where they would be sold.

The Port Authority of Guam Police Department discovered the shark fins inside a pickup truck and refused clearance for the driver to leave the port.

In some Asian markets shark fins are considered a delicacy and are sold for high prices to restaurants.

The Shark Finning Prohibition Act makes it illegal for a foreign vessel to offload any shark fins into a U.S. port, unless they offload the rest of the shark carcass with the fins.

This rule is aimed at reducing the number of sharks finned and carcasses discarded at sea. The Lacey Act makes it illegal to traffic in illegal natural resources, in this case, transporting or exporting shark fins that were off loaded illegally in the U.S.

Judith Fogarty, special agent in charge, Pacific Islands Division said, "These arrests and convictions were the result of a significant investigation conducted by the NOAA Fisheries Office for Law Enforcement, Office of the U.S. Attorney, Guam Customs and Quarantine Agency, Maritime Interdiction Task Force and Port Authority of Guam Police."

"The investigation of Shark Finning Prohibition Act violations is a priority and will continue to be so for NOAA Fisheries," Fogarty said.

Considered flight risks by the U.S. District Court, Bacaling and Cagas have been in federal custody since their arrests. A sentencing hearing has been set for December 8, 2004 in U.S. District Court in Guam.