Calif. firm to pay $1m in fish mislabeling case
A U.S. court in Los Angeles on Monday ordered a California company to pay USD 1 million in fines and community service payments for knowingly mislabeling frozen pangasius fillets as Paradise grouper, Falcon Baie grouper and ponga.
The sentence stems from the conviction of Seafood Solutions last July on a single count of selling fish in violation of the U.S. Lacey Act. Co-defendants Chau-Shing (Duke) Lin of Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., and Christopher Ragone of Santa Ana, Calif., also pleaded guilty at the time — Lin to once count of violating the Lacey Act and one count of misbranding food and Ragone to two counts of misbranding food. They are due to be sentenced on 13 February.
On Monday, Seafood Solutions was fined USD 700,000 and ordered to donate USD 300,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Additionally, the company was sentenced to three years of probation and was ordered to forfeit all remaining inventory of mislabeled fish and to develop and implement a corporate compliance plan.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), in approximately June 2004 Seafood Solutions began to sell a fish it labeled “ponga.” The fish was Pangasius hypophthalmus, a catfish-like species from Southeast Asia commonly known as tra or swai. The fish was then sold under the brand names “Paradise Grouper” and “Falcon Baie Grouper.”
Between July 2005 and February 2006, a wholesale distributor that had purchased the fish returned USD 411,194 worth of the product labeled as Paradise Grouper, Falcon Baie Grouper or ponga because the distributor’s customer mistakenly believed that the fish was grouper. Seafood Solutions agreed to be invoiced for and received the returned product, knowing that it had been mislabeled. Defendants Lin, Ragone and Seafood Solutions knowingly again sold the fish even after its return from the customer. From February 2006 to April 2006, Ragone sold USD 2 million worth of pangasius knowing that the product bore the Paradise Grouper and ponga labels.
The case was investigated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Law Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The case is being prosecuted by the Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.