NEW YORK (NYTIMES) – When the authorities made a search in 2017 at the Dutchess County, New York, in the home of a man who had recently been stopped in Georgia with five small sharks in the back of his truck, they found seven sandbar sharks swimming in an above-ground pool in his basement.
Then they found the carcasses of two leopard sharks and a hammerhead shark, and the snout of an endangered small-tooth sawfish, the authorities said.
The man, Joshua Seguine, 40, of LaGrangeville, New York, pleaded guilty this week to a charge of illegal possession of the fish with the intent to sell them and was ordered to pay a US$5,000 (S$6,720) fine, the New York Attorney-General’s office said in a statement.
The case drew attention to an underground market whose clients include professional athletes, entertainers and others with the means and the desire to keep exotic fish as pets.
Seguine was arrested in July 2017 in Georgia on charges of driving without a license and possessing five small sharks in a tank in the back of his truck, according to the New York Attorney-General’s office.
Seguine admitted at the time that he was planning to take the sharks to New York and sell them, along with other live sharks he had in his home, the authorities said.
After the New York Department of Environmental Conservation was informed of Seguine’s arrest in Georgia, the department started its own investigation, the authorities said.
Investigators learnt that Seguine operated a business named Aquatic Apex Life LLC and that he offered sharks for sale on the website MonsterFishKeepers.com.
Seguine could not be reached for comment. It was not clear if he had a lawyer.
The New York Attorney-General’s office noted in its statement that the sandbar shark is a protected species under state law.
In addition to the sandbar sharks, which the Department of Environmental Conservation said were found in a 4.5m above-ground pool in the basement, the search of Seguine’s home also turned up the snout of a small-tooth sawfish.
The small-tooth sawfish, which can grow up to 16 feet long (almost 5m)and has a flat snout edged with teeth, was the first marine fish to be protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2003, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
It is legal to own sharks, which have become a status symbol of sorts for celebrities such as Tracy Morgan, although the owning of protected species is prohibited.
Mr Ken Moran, the founder of a South Carolina-based business called Shark Supply, said private sellers often broke the law, selling to clients who cannot guarantee a safe home for the sharks.
“I refuse to sell to people if they can’t provide an adequate system,” Mr Moran said, adding that his insistence on selling sharks only to buyers who can properly house them had cost him business over the years.
Mr Moran said he vetted his clients, including entertainers, athletes and designers, to ensure the sharks would be kept in an appropriately sized tank with a proper filtration system. If those standards can be promised, then Mr Moran will move forward with the sale.
“Life in a 20-foot tank, where they don’t have to worry about being eaten, that’s a pretty wonderful life,” Mr Moran said.
Sharks, especially younger ones, are often killed by predators in the ocean, he said, but they can also quickly die if they are not cared for properly.
Mr Moran declined to speculate when asked how much Seguine’s sharks would have sold for, out of fear that it might encourage further illegal sales of sharks.
Dr Sarah Hameed, a senior scientist with the Marine Conservation Institute, said that any time a shark dies in the wrong setting, it is detrimental to the environment.
“Killing sharks is certainly bad for the future of the species,” Dr Hameed said.
Biologists from the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead, New York, and the New York Aquarium in Coney Island assisted with the search of Seguine’s home and property and were able to move the sandbar sharks to the Coney Island aquarium, the Attorney-General’s office said.
“Let this serve as a loud and clear message: We will not tolerate anyone who preys on protected species to line their pockets,” New York’s Attorney-General Letitia James said in a statement.
“My office will continue to enforce the laws that safeguard our wildlife, and we will hold accountable those who violate them.”
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