A.G. Schneiderman Announces International Charges Against Canadian Fish Smuggler For Illegally Exporting Invasive & Endangered Species Into The U.S.

A.G. Schneiderman Announces International Charges Against Canadian Fish Smuggler For Illegally Exporting Invasive & Endangered Species Into The U.S.

AMHERST-- Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the filing of felony charges in the Town of Amherst Court against Muk Leung "Jim" Ip, a Canadian-based pet dealer whose operation smuggled and exported invasive and endangered species into the United States. Ip, age 49 from Scarborough, Ontario, is charged with two felony counts and one misdemeanor count of Illegal Commercialization of Fish, Shellfish, Crustaceans, and Wildlife for selling the invasive species, Snakeheads, and the endangered and protected fish species, Arowanas, as well as a protected amphibian, Axolotls. The charges resulted from a cross-border undercover investigation into the illegal trafficking from Ontario, Canada into New York.  

"This is a case where law enforcement cooperation between two countries and multiple agencies resulted in shutting down an operation that attempted to advance an individual’s self-interest at the expense of New York’s natural resources, specifically our Great Lakes," said Attorney General Schneiderman. "Our office remains committed to protecting our environment and we will prosecute those who are willing to put their own greed above the law."

According to the Attorney General's felony complaint, an agent of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service engaged in an undercover operation during which Ip, an employee withthe Lucky Aquarium located in Markham, Ontario, sold over $1,500 worth of Arowanas, knowing the endangered fish would be illegally transported to New York.

The investigation also revealed that Ip caused the sale of over $1,500 of Snakeheads to the same undercover agent, knowing that the highly invasive species would be illegally transported to New York. These crimes are classified as E felonies under the New York State Environment and Conservation Law and carry a maximum term of imprisonment of four years.

Ip also caused the sale of the protected species, Axolotls to the same agent, knowing that the amphibian would be illegally transported to New York. This crime is classified as a misdemeanor and carries up to one year imprisonment and a mandatory $5,000 fine. Ip also faces charges in the U.S. Federal Court and in Canada.

Snakeheads are highly invasive and have the potential to disrupt recreational fishing, harm native fish and wildlife, and impact our economy. New York State prohibits the possession, sale and live transport of Snakehead fish. Importation and interstate transport of Snakeheads is prohibited under the federal Lacey Act. Northern snakeheads are dangerous predators capable of growing to at least three feet long and surviving throughout the continental United States in a variety of habitats. With teeth similar to pike and walleye fish, they are superb predators and they feed voraciously.

The Asian Arowana – commonly called “dragon fish” or “lucky fish” – is native to Southeast Asia and can grow to up to three feet in length. Under the Endangered Species Act and international treaties, permits are required to export endangered or protected species from their country of origin, as well as import them into the United States. The permitting system is designed to protect species by preventing the creation of black markets for them in the United States and elsewhere. In the United States, Asian Arowanas can sell on the black market for thousands of dollars.

Axolotls originate from Mexico. They are unique in that the larvae of this species fail to undergo metamorphosis, so the adults remain aquatic and gilled. Axolotls are used extensively in scientific research due to their ability to regenerate limbs. As of 2010, wild Axolotls are near extinction due to urbanization in Mexico City and polluted waters.

"We don't have to look too far upstream to see the threats posed by invasive species," said Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, Co-Chair of the Great Lakes Task Force and author of the Invasive Fish and Wildlife Prevention Act of 2012. “The Great Lakes are relied upon for fishing, shipping and recreation and invasive species pose a serious threat to their economic and environmental health. I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman and the entire international law enforcement team for cracking down on illegal sales that could have had a devastating impact on the Lakes’ ecosystem and regional economy. The Great Lakes make up 20 percent of the world’s freshwater and we have an obligation to protect them.”

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens said, “International smuggling of invasive and endangered species in to New York State is a major concern to the health of our natural ecosystems. If released into the wild, the species targeted in this undercover operation could have caused significant environmental damage to our native species. Since smugglers do not recognize jurisdictional boundaries, it is only through cooperative efforts involving partnering law enforcement and conservation agencies that we can enforce wildlife laws across national and international borders to protect our ecosystems.”

"We applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for cracking down on illegally smuggled invasive species like the northern snakehead that clearly have no place in the Great Lakes ecosystem," said Jennifer Nalbone, Director of Navigation and Invasive Species for Great Lakes United. "This effort provides further evidence that law enforcement and preventative policies are critical to keeping these harmful invasive species away from our shores."

"Throughout the country, invasive species are inflicting serious damage in waters where they simply do not belong," said Katy Dunlap, Eastern Water Project Director for Trout Unlimited. "Not only are they harming existing fisheries, but they're cutting into fishing opportunities and doing long-term, irreparable harm to the environment. We applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for enforcing New York's strict laws against allowing exotic and invasive fish into the state, and for recognizing the importance of protecting America's waters from further damage."

The charges are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law.

The charges are the result of a joint international investigation into the illegal trade between Canada and the United States of invasive species and species at risk. The multi-agency investigation was conducted by officers from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment Canada, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The Attorney General thanks all of the investigative agencies for their assistance with this case.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorneys General Cydney A. Kelly and Paul F. McCarthy, under the supervision of Stephen J. Maher, Deputy Bureau Chief of the Criminal Prosecutions Bureau, Gail Heatherly, Chief of the Criminal Prosecutions Bureau and Nancy Hoppock, Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice. Department of Environmental Conservation Investigators David DiPasquale and Lieutenant John Burke investigated the case.