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Fishing Captain Pleads Guilty to Trying to Sell Shark Fins

Tue, 12/10/2013 - 9:59am
JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER, Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) — A fishing boat captain told a federal judge Friday he tried to sell shark fins to a Honolulu hotel restaurant so he could earn some extra money for his crew.

Matthew Brian Case, 47, said he finned dead sharks while at sea off Hawaii and planned to sell them "for a few hundred dollars."

Case concealed about 100 shark fins in a hidden compartment of the Hawaii-based long-line fishing vessel, prosecutors said.

Hawaii was the first state to make it illegal to possess, sell or distribute shark fins — a pricey Chinese delicacy. Shark finning at sea, dropping the carcasses in the water, is a violation of federal law.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin Chang ordered Case to pay a $100 fine after he pleaded guilty to attempting to sell shark fins that he knew were removed from the animals at sea. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Brady said the government agreed to the sentencing deal because Case fully cooperated and acknowledged right away that what he did was wrong.

"He knew it was illegal," his public defender, Alexander Silvert, said after the sentencing.

Case, a U.S. citizen living in Mexico, ordered his crew to fin sharks that were accidentally caught toward the end of a monthlong voyage, when it became clear they didn't catch enough fish to earn much of an income, Silvert said.

On March 8, Case took fins from 25 sharks to the restaurant, but the manager refused to buy them, Silvert said. A cab driver wouldn't let Case bring the bag of fins in the vehicle, so Case dumped them in the trash in the hotel lobby. Guests complained about the stench to security officials, who reviewed surveillance footage and contacted authorities.

Case flew back to Hawaii to plead guilty, Silvert said.

The animals finned were 23 blue sharks, one oceanic white-tip shark and one silky shark, Brady said. Blue shark is the type of shark that Hawaii-based long-line boats accidentally catch most often, according to a 2009 fishing study by state and federal researchers.

"This is a drop in the bucket," Brady said of the amount of fins involved. "But it's our bucket." He said an estimated 100 million to 300 million sharks are finned worldwide each year.

Hawaii's law took effect in 2011 but gave restaurants a year to use up any remaining inventory. Restaurants serving fin will be fined $5,000 to $15,000 the first time they are caught. A third offense would result in up to a year in prison and a fine of $35,000 to $50,000.

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