Man charged with smuggling sea cucumbers, black abalone
SAN DIEGO — The U.S. attorney’s office in San Diego this week arraigned a Taiwanese citizen on charges of smuggling more than 250 pounds of black abalone and Fuscus sea cucumbers into the country from Mexico.
Wei Wei Wang, 37, was brought into federal court on Wednesday as part of an investigation by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He’s accused of helping to illegally import 83 pounds of frozen abalone and 172 pounds of sea cucumbers in February 2016.
Another man charged in the case, 49-year-old Alan Ren of Northport, N.Y., remains a fugitive.
If found guilty, each would face up to 20 years in prison and as much as $250,000 in fines.
Authorities haven’t disclosed whether the men tried to disguise their products or whether those goods actually entered the U.S. or were confiscated at a port of entry.
“This case demonstrates the federal law enforcement community’s ongoing vigilance in uncovering illegal wildlife smuggling and prosecuting perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law,” acting U.S. Atty. Alana Robinson said in a statement. “Traffickers beware: We will take all necessary action to stop these financially motivated threats to our endangered species.”
Abalone and sea cucumber can fetch several hundred dollars per pound in the retail market, depending on a wide variety of factors.
The population of black abalone, which live in the intertidal waters off California and Mexico, has declined more than 80% in the past three decades as a result of withering syndrome and habitat destruction. The sea creatures — which are seen as a delicacy, especially among many Asian cultures — have been listed as federally endangered since 2009 and are illegal to harvest in California.
Meanwhile, the Fuscus sea cucumber is protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Under the convention, an export permit and certificate from the country of origin is required to bring that species into the U.S.
Fuscus sea cucumbers were listed as endangered in Mexico from 1994 to 2001; harvesting was allowed again starting in 2002. An adaptive management plan was put in place, establishing quotas and population monitoring.
Recent surveys show the species’ population density is decreasing.
“NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement is committed to eliminating the smuggling of protected species into the United States,” Will Ellis, assistant director with the agency’s law enforcement division, said in a statement. “Abalone and sea cucumbers have been identified by NOAA Fisheries as species that are vulnerable to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing practices and will be included in the Seafood Import Monitoring Program, which is scheduled for implementation on Jan. 1, 2018.”
Last month, a major federal investigation led to the indictment of a father-son duo who were charged with smuggling into San Diego more than $17 million worth of illegally-harvested sea cucumbers.
Smuggling of sea cucumbers is one of the most highprofile wildlife crimes in Southern California, next to the illegal trade of totoaba fish bladders, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials.
The dried fish bladders are sold to Asian markets, sometimes for as much as $30,000 apiece, according to a recent report from the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Elephant Action League.
Abalone and sea cucumber, seen as delicacies, can fetch several hundred dollars per pound in the retail market.
BLACK ABALONE cluster together in an intertidal crag on San Nicolas Island in Southern California.