Owner of Fife, WA Seafood Processing Company Pleads Guilty to Sea Cucumber Lacey Act Violation
April 17, 2018
Authorities Allege He Intentionally Hid Amount of Sea Cucumbers Purchased Resulting in Overharvest
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(SEATTLE, WA.) – The owner of Orient Seafood Production of Fife, Washington, pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court in Seattle to conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, announced U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes.
“Hoon Namkoong admits that between August 2014 and November 2016 he conspired with others to under report the amount of sea cucumbers purchased for processing by approximately 250,000 pounds,” said a statement from Hayes’ office. “The post-processing market value of the sea cucumbers is nearly $1.5 million. Mr. Namkoong is scheduled for sentencing in front of Chief U. S. District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez on July 20, 2018.
According to records filed in the case, Namkoong purchased sea cucumbers from both tribal and non-tribal fishers in the Puget Sound region. Sea cucumbers are classified as shellfish, and harvests are regulated by both Washington State and Tribal authorities.
To protect the resource, the harvests are tracked by fish tickets signed by both the fisher and the purchaser. Mr. Namkoong admits that he falsified fish tickets, failed to prepare fish tickets or retain confirmation of fish tickets submitted by third parties, and frequently paid fishers in cash for their sea cucumbers so there would be no financial record of the total amount of sea cucumbers taken.
Falsifying fish tickets, and processing and selling in interstate or foreign commerce illegally obtained shellfish is a violation of the Lacey Act, the federal law that prohibits illegal trafficking in wildlife, fish, and plants. Investigators say Namkoong’s company processed the sea cucumbers and sold and transported them to wholesale seafood buyers in both the U.S. and in Asia, for a gain of nearly $1.5 million.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, Namkoong will pay up to $1,499,999 in restitution. Prosecutors agreed to recommend no more than 30 months in prison as a sentence for the business owner.
The ultimate sentence will be up to Chief Judge Martinez. Conspiracy to Violate the Lacey Act is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.