Men charged with smuggling Alligator gars

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Three men have been charged with taking Alligator gars from the Trinity River in Texas and smuggling them into Tokyo for the aquarium trade.

The Alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula) is a primitive ray-finned fish, with a long, toothy snout from which it gets its common name. It can reach up to 10' in length. Now it seems that the species has become a trophy fish for aquariums of the wealthy in Japan.

Some of the largest specimens of Alligator gar can be found in the Trinity River. It's the largest exclusively freshwater fish found in North America.

According to the report on chron.com, two dealers from Tokyo paid $15,000 for the fish – each 4' long, which the smugglers helped them to catch on a fishing trip at the Trinity River. They were later prevented from shipping the live gars into Japan because they didn't have the proper paperwork.

It's alleged that the fish were then transported by van to West Palm Beach in Florida, where they were kept in a swimming pool while arrangements were made with a fish distribution company owned by one of the smugglers to ship them to Japan.

When questioned by authorities, it was claimed that the fish were farm raised and not wild-caught, but the day after the fish were shipped, an investigation brought the plot to light.

The men are accused of conspiring to illegally transport the fish without obtaining a commercial fisherman's license, fish dealer's license and non-game fish permit. If convicted, they could face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.

It's thought to be the first time that anyone has faced a charge for smuggling this species. The Alligator gar was once abundant, but has seen a substantial decline over the years.

Tagging and monitoring of the gars has begun in Texas, and licensed fishermen are restricted to catching just one per day.

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