Sharks over the moon following court ruling
California, USA, 15 February 2007—The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, founded by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, whose followers are known colloquially as “Moonies”, and six men convicted of poaching Leopard Sharks are to pay a total of US$910,000 to help restore marine wildlife habitat in the San Francisco Bay. Generous donations from the California Coastal Conservancy and three Foundations are to contribute a further US$600,000 for conservation work in the area.
The ring leader of the elaborate shark poaching operation, the Reverend Kevin Thompson, a pastor at the Bay Area Family Church in San Leandro, oversaw the operation whereby members of his church illegally harvested undersized California Leopard Sharks from San Francisco Bay and sold them throughout the United States and beyond. He was fined US$100,000 and sentenced to a year and a day in prison.
The five other convicted men were fined a total of US$310,000, and sentenced for up to 8 months each in prison with additional community service and probationary periods.
Several agencies, including TRAFFIC, took part in the investigations which ultimately led to the successful convictions.
The convicted gang used church vessels to catch undersize Leopard Sharks, which were then sold wholesale to distributors for up to US$75 each. They were often mislabeled as “common sharks” during shipping, to avoid detection by wildlife inspectors.
The investigation began in Miami, when a pet trade distributor was caught with 18 undersized Leopard Sharks from California. He was convicted in 2003 and received an 18 month sentence. Subsequent investigations led back to the Bay Area where the principal suppliers were located.
“The prosecution of this case casts a bright light on the dark world of illegal worldwide trading in protected wildlife,” said Paul Chang, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement, Pacific Region.
“These Leopard Sharks were smuggled from California to profit-motivated dealers throughout the United States, and in Europe. But the work of our special agents illustrates that no matter where you are located, if you are illegally buying or selling protected wildlife you will be caught, and you will pay a price for breaking wildlife law.”
California Leopard Sharks are common in waters along the Oregon, California and Baja Mexico coasts, they grow slowly and only reach sexual maturity when 7–13 years old. In 1994, the California Department of Fish & Game Code placed a minimum size limit of 36 inches (91 cm) for any commercial take of the species within California jurisdiction.
For more information on the case, see: http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/can/press/2007/2007_02_12_leopardsharks.sentencing.press.html