A major seafood company and nearly 10 individuals were indicted by the Justice Department this week for involvement in what the government said was a major seafood trafficking ring involving threatened eels.
The American Eel Depot Corporation of Totowa, N.J. and "eight of its employees" were indicted on charges of "smuggling, Lacey Act violations and conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act," the Justice Department said in a press release.
The charges against the individuals stemmed "from their trafficking in large volumes of highly imperiled eels," the DOJ announced.
The Justice Department called the New Jersey company "the largest importer and wholesale distributor of eel meat in the United States" and said that the corporation began sourcing eels illegally from Europe after similar efforts were cracked down on in the United States.
The defendants "conspired to unlawfully smuggle large quantities of live baby European eels out of Europe, to their eel-rearing factory in China," the DOJ said. "After rearing the baby eels to maturity, defendants' Chinese facility would then slaughter and process the eels for shipping to the United States, to be sold as sushi products."
In the event of conviction, the department said, "each defendant faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 (for individual defendants) or $500,000 (for business organizations)."