The international ocean conservation group Oceana today expressed satisfaction that a Spanish commercial fishing magnate who had been sought by authorities, including Interpol, in three continents for pirate fishing has been arrested by U.S. authorities in Miami in a precedent-setting case -- the first time the United States has brought criminal charges involving illegal importation and sale of Chilean seabass, which has been severely overfished.
A Miami federal grand jury in September 2005 returned an indictment against Antonio Vidal Pego, a Spanish national, and Fadilur, S.A., a Uruguayan corporation, charging them with importing and conspiring to sell illegally 53,000 pounds (26.5 tons) of Chilean seabass, also known as toothfish, from Singapore for $314,397.30. They were also charged with false labeling and obstructing justice. If convicted, Vidal could be sentenced to a maximum of 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines, according to the Department of Justice. Miami U.S. Attorney's office spokeswoman Yovanny Lopez told Oceana that Vidal was arrested April 19 at Miami International Airport.
“We are delighted that Mr. Vidal is finally in the hands of <country-region w:st="on"><place w:st="on">U.S.</place></country-region> authorities. Now the courts have a chance to show that the days of impunity for pirate fishing are over,” said Spanish marine biologist Xavier Pastor, Oceana’s Vice President for <place w:st="on">Europe</place>. “Fish populations worldwide are over-exploited already, leaving no room for individuals or enterprises to violate systematically the international law that tries to restore sustainability to marine resources.”
Pastor and Oceana’s Madrid-based European staff have been the primary group in <country-region w:st="on"><place w:st="on">Spain</place></country-region> following the Vidal case. Vidal owns a fleet of commercial fishing ships, such as Viarsa, which the Australian coast guard chased for 20 days after catching it while fishing illegally. The Viarsa’s crew was tried and absolved in 2005 on a technicality: at the time of its capture, the Viarsa’s fishing nets were not in the water and it was outside <place w:st="on"><country-region w:st="on">Australia</country-region></place>’s territorial waters.
Another of Vidal’s ships, the Galaeicia, was denounced by an observer from the Spanish Institute of Oceanography who was on board in November 2004, when the observer witnessed a trans-shipment of fish in the high seas from another Vidal-owned ship, the Hammer, which is named in the list of pirate fishing vessels by international treaties. Nonetheless, Vidal has received in the last two years at least 3 million euros in subsidies from the Spanish government’s Department of Maritime Fishing, part of it for “experimental fishing.”
The <city w:st="on">Miami</city> indictment charges that in May 2004, Vidal and Fadilur “knowingly attempted to import some 53,000 pounds of toothfish from <country-region w:st="on">Singapore</country-region> into <city w:st="on">Miami</city>, for sale in the <country-region w:st="on">United States</country-region>, knowing that the fish was taken and transported in violation of and in a manner unlawful under the Antarctic Marine Living Resources Convention and provisions of <country-region w:st="on"><place w:st="on">U.S.</place></country-region> law.”
Patagonian toothfish and Antarctic toothfish, marketed as Chilean seabass, are deep-sea species slow to grow and breed and can live 40 years. Chilean seabass is protected by international law due to increased pressure on the species from both legal and pirate fishing.
The harvest and trade of Chilean seabass is regulated under the international Convention on
the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, implemented in the <place w:st="on"><country-region w:st="on">United States</country-region></place>
through the Antarctic Marine Living Resources Act. The treaty and implementing laws require specific documentation to follow legally harvested toothfish from the point of harvest to the point of final import for consumption.