A man who left Tyneside to become a minister in a church in California has been jailed for smuggling sharks into the aquarium trade.
Kevin Thompson, 48, formerly of Jarrow, South Tyneside, in north east England, was sentenced to one year in jail and ordered to pay fines of $100,000 (about 51,000) after pleading guilty to poaching thousands of baby Leopard sharks and selling them to the aquarium trade.
Reuters reported that approximately 465 Leopard sharks were sold to pet suppliers in the USA, the Netherlands and the UK.
A report from icNewcastle said that the poaching was uncovered following a two-year investigation by a US Special Agent from the Fisheries Office for Law Enforcement and the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
Stephen Maidment of DEFRA traced some of the illegal sharks back to a company in Hertfordshire.
Maidment was reported as saying: "It was felt it would be cruel to parcel them up and send them back to California to be dumped in the sea, so it was agreed that they'd stay where they were."
Shark poachingThompson's shark poaching gang is estimated to have generated $1.2 million (600,000), making it the largest baby Leopard shark poaching operation in the US, the report claims.
Thompson was one of six arrested, including another British man, 34-year old John Newberry of Newcastle.
The operation involved employing teenagers to poach baby Leopard sharks from the San Francisco Bay. The teenagers were paid 1.00-1.50 per shark, and Thompson's gang then sold the sharks on to the aquarium trade at a price of 20 each.
Wholesaler finedAccording to a report from the Chicago Sun-Times, an aquarium retailer was fined $10,000 for purchasing two shipments of the sharks.
Joe and Aurora Okine of Bellwood, who operate Joe's Unique Distribution, a wholesale facility that supplies tropical fish to aquatic retailers, pleaded guilty to a charge of misdemeanour.
Officials recovered 19 sharks, which were confiscated and housed at the Shedd Aquarium and Monterey Bay Aquarium. Nine were returned to the wild. Seven others died.
Unsuitable for aquariaLeopard sharks, Triakis semifasciata, can reach a length of over 2m/6'6" and live in the tropical and sub-tropical waters off the San Francisco Bay area.
The species is a livebearer, and the baby offspring are sometimes offered for sale in the aquarium trade.
They are large, active fishes and require extremely large aquaria to thrive. As a result, they are not recommended for the general public. Most reputable suppliers refuse to sell such fish.