Customs corrals illegal seahorse shipment
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the Port of New York-New Jersey in Elizabeth, N.J., recently confiscated an illegal shipment of seahorses from China, and the importer faces civil and criminal penalties, the agency said Friday.
The shipment of seahorses was described on the shipping manifest as food and candy destined for Elmhurst, N.Y.
Two boxes of dead seahorses were discovered after import specialists targeted the shipment for an inspection to see whether it complied with health and safety regulations.
|A shipment of seahorses confiscated in New Jersey|
Seahorses are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Endangered Species Act. All shipments of seahorses are required to be listed at the species level on the import declaration and must be accompanied by a valid CITES permit or certificate. No such documents were provided by the importer, CBP said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has taken over the investigation, which revealed that the importer has two prior offenses for illegally importing seahorses. The importer faces a minimum civil penalty of $10,000 and possible criminal prosecution, but has not yet been indicted.
Seahorses are commonly traded live for the aquarium trade and dead for decorative purposes and medicinal uses such as aphrodisiacs. They are found in most coastal marine areas that have sea grass beds, mangroves, or coral reefs. It is estimated that there are about 35 species of seahorses. Among the more populated areas for seahorses are southern Australia and Tasmania, China, Indonesia, Japan, and the Philippines. However, the smuggled seahorse trade most often involves China and Korea, CBP said.
In related news, CBP officers at the Otay Mesa, Calif., land port of entry seized more than five tons of marijuana in a commercial truck arriving from Mexico on March 25. The shipment was listed on the manifest as toilet paper. The truck was referred for a secondary inspection during which a canine team detected the presence of drugs hidden in a false wall in the trailer.
The seizure is noteworthy because the driver was registered in the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program, which allows trucks with pre-screened drivers from trucking companies, maquiladoras and importers in the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism expedited clearance through land border checkpoints. In this case, however, the shipper and trucking company were not part of the FAST program and therefore the shipment went through normal checks.
The driver was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and is being held on drug smuggling charges. His participation in the FAST program has been terminated, CBP said.