Oceana affirms that a United States Court has found shipowner Antonio Vidal guilty of illegally importing chilean sea bass

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Vidal, who has collaborated with U.S. authorities by providing information to process others engaged in pirate fishing activities, has been sentenced to four years probation and ordered to pay a $400,000 fine.


November 14, 2006
Madrid
Contact:
Marta Madina ( mmadina@oceana.org )




In order to avoid being extradited to the United States and sentenced to prison, Vidal must cease all activities related to Chilean sea bass fishing

The uruguayan company Fidalur, controlled by Antonio Vidal, must cease its activities and disband within 45 days. The company has also been ordered to pay a $100,000 fine

The international organisation for marine conservation, Oceana, confirms that the Galician shipowner Antonio Vidal Pego was sentenced yesterday at 7:00 pm, Spanish time, by a Miami court to four years probation and ordered to pay a $400,000 fine (€312,000). Antonio Vidal was charged with importing and conspiring to sell 26 tons of illegally caught Chilean sea bass in the United States through the port of Miami in 2004. INTERPOL issued a warrant for his arrest and Antonio Vidal turned himself in to U.S. authorities on April 19, 2006.

According to Oceana, Vidal is the first person to be convicted for these charges in the United States. The Chilean sea bass (Dissostichus eleginoides), also known as the Patagonian toothfish, is a threatened species that requires special permits issued by international organisations for its capture, importation and sale. FIDALUR, an Uruguayan company controlled by Vidal, forged documents in an attempt to fool U.S. authorities and fishing protection services, but the operation was uncovered by customs officials.

Antonio Vidal Pego was declared guilty of obstruction of justice. The charges brought against him included not only the illegal importation of a protected species, but also conspiracy to sell this species and falsification of documents.

These charges might have lead to a 20-year prison sentence for Antonio Vidal. But according to information given to Oceana by the District Attorney’s office in Miami, the Galician shipowner bargained with the U.S. Government in order to avoid a prison sentence by providing information about the criminal activities of others involved in pirate fishing. This information will help the federal government process other shipowners carrying out activities similar to Vidal’s.

The sentence states that Antonio Vidal’s probation requires the complete and immediate cessation of all direct and/or indirect activities related to the fishing and selling of Chilean sea bass. In order to ensure compliance with the sentence, the shipowner must present the accounting books and activity registers of all of his companies to the United States Government and the Probation Office. Furthermore, he must appear before a U.S. justice each time he is summaned. Antonio Vidal also had to submit a document to the judge stating he accepts his extradition to the United States by the Spanish Government or any country where he is located, in the event that he does not comply with the conditions of his sentence.

Furthermore, the Fidalur company, controlled by Antonio Vidal and located in Uruguay – considered a haven for pirate fishing activities – must cease all its activities and be disbanded within 45 days. The company must also pay a $100,000 fine (€78,000).

Oceana, the international conservation organisation, is satisfied with this first effective sentence against pirate fishing and companies involved in criminal activities. Vidal and the crew of one of his ships, the Viarsa, had escaped criminal changes by an Australian jury for illegal fishing activities after the vessel participated in a 4,000-mile getaway lasting one month in the Southern Ocean, after being caught red-handed by the Australian Coast Guard illegally fishing Chilean sea bass Antarctic waters. This chase, the longest in history, was recounted by G. Bruce Knecht, journalist for The Wall Street Journal, in his book “Hooked: Pirates, Poaching and the Perfect Fish.”

Another one of Vidal’s ships, the Galaecia, was the subject of a confidential file compiled by the Spanish General Secretariat of Marine Fisheries. The public was made aware of this when Oceana publicly condemned the transfer of supplies from that ship to the Hammer, another of Vidal’s ships included in the CCAMLR (the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) registry of pirate fishing vessels.

According to Oceana, when that transfer was to be completed, the Galaecia was carrying out “pilot activities of experimental fishery” subsidised by the General Secretariat of Marine Fisheries of the Ministry of Agriculture with a €1,300,000 grant. An IEO (the Spanish Oceanographic Institute) observer was on board at the time. This is the second largest subsidy provided by the Fisheries Secretariat, contributing to a total of 3 million Euros worth of subsidies granted to Vidal in the last two years.

At that time Antonio Vidal announced he would bring charges against Oceana for “violating his honour and his public image.” Meanwhile, Joe Borg, the Commissioner for Fisheries of the European Union sent a letter to the Spanish government on December 25, 2005, requiring that the General Secretariat for Marine Fisheries withdraw the Galaecia’s fishing permit.

Xavier Pastor, fisheries biologist and Executive Director for Oceana in Europe, stated: “We suppose that since Antonio Vidal is now a legally convicted and confessed criminal, the Spanish government will cease to subsidise his companies with the Spanish taxpayers’ money, and that the upper management of the General Secretariat for Marine Fisheries will be more careful regarding its relations and the protection of pirate shipowners like Antonio “Toño” Vidal. The Spanish taxpayers’ money is used by the likes of these people to exhaust the oceans and violate international laws.”

Oceana demands that the General Secretariat for Marine Fisheries publish all the documents related to the Galaecia’s file, and that they state the reasons why this process was closed without the announcement of its conclusions. Oceana also demands that the Secretariat make a statement regarding Antonio Vidal’s sentencing.

Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Research for Oceana, has also made a call to shipowners: “We would like to hear the voices of honest shipowners and their associations. We would like to hear them say, loud and clear, that they condemn Vidal’s activities as well as any other member of the fishing sector who does not comply with fisheries legislation and engages in pirate fishing with any vessel, in any ocean and under any flag.”