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Shellfish raids, arrests made in U.S. southeast.

Culminating a year long undercover investigation by National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and state conservation agencies, 16 Federal warrants and 9 state warrants were served in Louisiana, Florida, and South Carolina in September 1988. The tri-state raid teams consisted of 20 NMFS agents, 9 FDA investigators, and 58 officers from the Florida Department of Natural Resources, Florida Marine Patrol, South Carolina Wildlife and Marine Resources Division, South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, and the Louisiana State Police.

The NMFS, FDA, and state law enforcement agencies initiated the multistate investigation as a result of numerous complaints and information that illegal shellfish products were being harvested and sold in interstate commerce. Harvesters and dealers allegedly handled oysters and clams taken from polluted waters and were buying and selling products without regard to state tagging requirements. The harvesting of oysters and clams from polluted areas, improper temperature storage, or the purchase and sale of untagged shellstock is tantamount to a potential catastrophe.

Suzanne Montero, Special Agent In Charge, NMFS, St. Petersburg, Fla., and Robert Bartz, District Director, FDA, New Orleans, La., announced that the joint law enforcement effort was mandated by considerations of safety to the public health. The size and nature of the problem led the government officials

to believe the investigation could not be handled through regular law enforcement means, but required the cooperative efforts of state and Federal agencies in a major undercover investigation. Operations PEARL (La.), STOP (Fla.), and SPONGE (S.C.) allowed undercover state and Federal agents to enter the world of black-market oyster and clam dealers to document their illegal activities.

Ten search warrants were served on oyster dealers in Louisiana and Florida, while nine arrest warrants were served on clam dealers in South Carolina. In addition to thousands of anticipated state charges, the alleged Federal violation is the Lacey Act, 16 U.S.C. 3371-3378. The statute states, in part, that it is illegal to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase in interstate commerce any fish or wildlife taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of any law or regulation of any state. The maximum felony penalty for knowingly violating the law, if convicted, is up to $20,000 or 5 years incarceration or both per count.
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Publication:Marine Fisheries Review
Date:Jan 1, 1989
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