Alligator gar dealer prosecuted

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An American man may be fined $500,000 and jailed for up to five years for shipping four Alligator gar to Japan.

Loren Willis from Florida was found guilty of two counts of trying to illegally transport fish out of state in September last year. Willis had gone out fishing in Texas with two Japanese dealers, an accomplice and a guide and another man to catch four four feet long Alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula).

After unsuccessfully trying to ship the fish directly from Houston, he then drove them back to his house in Florida where he kept them in a backyard pool for several weeks before shipping them to Japan.

A neighbour said Willis kept a large coffee can of fish food nearby and made sure the water was being circulated. She added: " treated them like babies."

The trial was the culmination of a nine-month joint investigation between the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Special Operations Unit and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service investigating multiple individuals who were taking Alligator gar illegally from the Trinity River, and subsequently selling the fish domestically and internationally.

Willis and his co-defendant were subject to a 'sting' as their guide was actually a paid government official and the other man was an undercover agent with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had been tipped off after Willis repeatedly rang them for advice about catching and shipping Alligator gar to Japanese Corporations. He was told that he needed a license to fish for the gar but he never applied for one.

After three weeks he shipped the gar via a Florida based fish distributor to Japan where there is a burgeoning market for "monster fish" which are kept in huge aquariums.

Documentation provided by the importer falsely listed the fish as farm-raised and not wild or as originating from Texas. He was paid $15,000 for the fish. Larger eight foot long Alligator gar have been known to fetch as much as $40,000 in Japan.

Thomas Burbank, Willis' attorney said: "It amazes me that the government would spend tens and tens of thousands of dollars on the case for four Alligator gar that if you talk to anyone in Texas, they are a nuisance fish."

However a fisheries biologist stated that Alligator gar are at risk of becoming threatened and highly vulnerable to overfishing.

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