US authorities have fined a US Virgin Islands company a record amount after they were found guilty of illegally trading coral.
GEM Manufacturing were fined $4.5 million for 'knowingly trading in falsely-labelled, protected black coral that was shipped into the United States in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Lacey Act.'
GEM were accused of obtaining black coral without CITES certificates. The company pleaded guilty in July to seven counts of violating the ESA and the Lacey Act – which makes it a crime to falsely label wildlife. In response to this they were ordered to pay $1.8 million as well as an additional $500,000 in community service in projects which protect black coral. They were ordered to forfeit over 6200kg of raw coral (valued at $2.7 million) and a range of coral jewellery and sculptures.
Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Ignacia Moreno said the Justice Department: "…will continue to work with our federal partners to aggressively investigate and prosecute those who violate US law by illegally trading in protected species."
Whilst William Woody, the US Fish and Wildlife Service's chief of law enforcement added that the illegal trade further threatened already fragile coral reef ecosystems: "The penalties here should make it clear that the United States will not tolerate trafficking in these protected resources," he added.
Last year GEM's former black coral supplier, Peng Chia Enterprise Co. of Taiwan, were arrested in a sting operation and sentenced last year to between 20 and 30 months in prison for illegally providing black coral to GEM.
Black coral (Antipatharians) is a group of tropical deep-sea corals related to sea anemones. It is regarded as semi-precious and is polished for use in jewellery. The fact that is extremely slow growing and can live for hundreds of years means that overharvesting can have severe impacts.
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