Owner of Japanese Fishing Vessel Charged with Unlawful Trafficking of Shark Fins

Honolulu, Hawaii - Hamada Suisan Co. Ltd., the owner of a Japanese-flagged fishing vessel, was charged in federal court with aiding and abetting the attempted export of shark fins out of Hawaii in violation of the Lacey Act, the Department of Justice announced Monday.

The charge arose from the November 2018 discovery of approximately 962 shark fins, weighing approximately 190 pounds, from the checked luggage of fisherman working aboard the Japanese-flagged fishing vessel, M.V. Kyoshin Maru No. 20 (Kyoshin Maru). The Kyoshin Maru had engaged in longline tuna fishing in the southern Pacific Ocean for approximately one year prior, utilizing a crew of officers who were Japanese nationals and fishermen who were Indonesian nationals. In the course of the voyage, crew members harvested fins from approximately 300 sharks.

On or about Nov. 6, 2018, the Kyoshin Maru traveled near Hawaii, and its Indonesian crew members legally entered the United States in order to board return flights departing from Honolulu International Airport. During routine screening, Transportation Security Administration officers discovered the shark fins in 10 of the fishermen’s checked luggage. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seized the shark fins, which it later determined were worth as much as $57,850 on the black market. 

Some of the shark fins were from oceanic whitetip sharks, which are listed as threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an international convention with over 180 parties, including the United States, Japan, and Indonesia. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the oceanic whitetip shark has declined by approximately 80-95 percent across the Pacific Ocean since the mid-1990s. Other fins were from silky sharks and bigeye thresher sharks, which are also protected under the CITES Convention.

“Shark finning is a cruel practice, prohibited by federal law, numerous states, including Hawaii, and multilateral bodies to which both the United States and Japan belong,” said Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey B. Clark for the Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The charge filed today reflects the United States’ serious commitment to enforcing these bans and ending this practice.”

“Shark finning is inhumane, intolerable, and takes a very real toll on our precious ocean ecosystem," said U.S. Attorney Kenji M. Price for the District of Hawaii. “My office is committed to combatting this cruel practice by prosecuting to the fullest extent of the law anyone found to be trafficking in these types of shark fins.”

The charge filed today accuses Hamada Suisan Co. Ltd., of unlawfully trafficking shark fins. U.S. laws prohibit, within U.S. jurisdiction: the removal of any fins of any shark at sea; the possession of such fins aboard a fishing vessel that are not attached to the corresponding carcass, and; the transfer or landing of any such detached fin. Some of these laws implement U.S. obligations under international conventions. In addition, the laws of the State of Hawaii make it unlawful for any person to possess, sell, offer for sale, trade, or distribute shark fins. Due in part to the over-harvest of sharks, some species of shark — including three species found among the fins at issue in this case — are protected under the CITES Convention.

The charge in the Information is merely an allegation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. 

This case is being investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement, with assistance from: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Law Enforcement; Homeland Security Investigations; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and; the U.S. Coast Guard. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc A. Wallenstein, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Hawaii, and Senior Counsel for Wildlife Programs Elinor Colbourn, Environmental Crimes Section, and the U.S. Department of Justice. The prosecution team is coordinating with the U.S. Department of State on this matter.