Two aquatic companies pleaded guilty this week to federal criminal charges for illegally importing protected live corals from Vietnam, concealing their unlawful activity, and submitting false records with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The United States Attorney’s office has released the following information on the case:
Renaissance Aquatics Inc. and Lim Aqua-Nautic Specialist Inc. from Inglewood California each pleaded guilty to two felony counts of unlawfully importing live coral. According to their plea agreements, from 2007 until March 2013, Renaissance Aquatics operated as a retailer of live marine specimens and acted as an agent for Lim Aqua-Nautic Specialist, a marine livestock wholesaler. The companies imported marine life from foreign suppliers, then sold and shipped marine life within and outside the United States. Both companies were located within the same commercial building in Inglewood.
Renaissance employees placed orders with foreign suppliers to purchase various live saltwater species, including live corals. Aqua-Nautic provided Renaissance with the funds to pay for the orders, provided trucks and drivers to pick up the orders upon arrival at Los Angeles International Airport, and provided warehouse space and employees to unpack, condition, and store the marine life upon its delivery from the airport. Aqua-Nautic received most of the proceeds from the subsequent sales of the wildlife to Renaissance customers.
Renaissance imported orders from a supplier in Vietnam that contained live stony corals, that the defendants knew were protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). To lawfully import the corals, Renaissance was required to identify the corals on United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Declaration for Importation or Exportation of Fish or Wildlife and to have the required CITES documentation.
Not declared, misleading paperwork and concealed corals
Renaissance neither declared the live stony corals in the shipments from Vietnam nor provided the required CITES documentation for them. Renaissance caused its customs broker to submit to the USFWS a misleading “Invoice & Packing List” that intentionally omitted the live stony corals and listed inaccurate prices. The shipments from Vietnam were also packed in a manner to conceal the live stony corals beneath other properly declared species.
From May 2012 to March 2013, Renaissance, acting as Aqua-Nautic’s agent, imported at least eight shipments from Vietnam containing stony corals that were not declared to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and were not accompanied by the required CITES documentation.
United States District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald scheduled a November 9 sentencing hearing, at which time each company will face a statutory maximum sentence of five years probation and a $1 million fine.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigated this case. Assistant United States Attorneys Heather C. Gorman and Dennis Mitchell of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section are prosecuting this case. The information on the case above was published by the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Central District of California 22-156.
The import and export of Vietnamese non-hard corals like Anemones, Mushrooms, Zoanthids (Anthozoans,) and Soft corals, (Alcyonacea,) is legal in the US, EU, and the UK, and the country remains a popular saltwater aquarium source.