Conservationists are applauding the US courts who have ordered 3 lobster fishermen to pay the South African government US$54.9 million in restitution for illegal harvesting lobsters from their waters. It is the largest order ever made under the Lacey Act by the US courts.
The fisherman took lobsters from south African waters over a number of years and the majority of the poached catch was transported to the United States for sale.
Karen Sack, director of international ocean conservation for the Pew Environment Group, said “Pew applauds the court for recognizing the severity of this crime and appropriately ordering such a high penalty.
“These defendants stole an environmental asset from South Africa, and it is only fair that they pay the country back for that theft. This unprecedented ruling shows that the U.S. can and will take concerted action to stop illegal fishing and bring those U.S. citizens engaging in it to justice, whether it has occurred within or outside of U.S. waters. Most of the illegal catch was shipped to the United States for sale. This is the largest ever restitution awarded by a U.S. court under the historic Lacey Act, one of the oldest American conservation laws that protects plants and wildlife by establishing civil and criminal penalties for a wide array of violations, and most notably prohibits trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been illegally taken, transported, or sold.” [pullquote]These defendants stole an environmental asset from South Africa, and it is only fair that they pay the country back for that theft. This unprecedented ruling shows that the U.S. can and will take concerted action to stop illegal fishing and bring those U.S. citizens engaging in it to justice, whether it has occurred within or outside of U.S. waters. [/pullquote]
The compensation order was issued by The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The order was made by a magistrate of the court circuit and now needs the approval of a district level judge before being enforced.
The restitution order that has been issued is the final stage of a long court battle against the fishermen by US authorities. The case was first bought in 2003 over the illegal harvesting of lobster that took place between the years of 1987 and 2001.
Initially the courts decided that no compensation was payable to the South African government but after an appeal by the US government the appeal courts decided that the South African government did have property rights over the rock lobsters that were illegally harvested and should be compensated for the losses.
The Lacey Act was introduced into the US in 1900 in order to protect game bird and fish stocks. It has since been expanded to become one of the most effective wildlife and wild plant trafficking laws in the United States.
Story Update 18/6/13: US Judge has reduced the compensation order at the affirmation hearing to just under $30 million.