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NOAA Enforcement Finds Seafood Importers Guilty of Illegal Smuggling

On July 15, 2022, a federal judge found four seafood importers guilty in a conspiracy to illegally smuggle prohibited catfish into the United States. Special agents and investigators removed an estimated 43,800 pounds of illegal catfish from the seafood supply chain. “This case demonstrates the importance of collaboration across U.S. government partners to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing,” said James Landon, Director of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement (OLE). “This should serve as a reminder that those who break the rules will be held accountable—protecting honest fishermen and good actors.”

In January of 2019, we were alerted by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) of potential illegal catfish imports coming through New York. NOAA Enforcement special agents and officers at the New York and New Jersey Container Port Terminals investigated this information. Ultimately, they uncovered a conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government. Any company that wishes to import catfish into the United States from another country must first pass an inspection by the Food Safety and Inspection Service .

During the investigation, OLE and CBP agents examined several of the defendants’ shipment containers, collected fish samples, and identified two illegal species of catfish through our forensic laboratory. The defendants falsely labeled the illegal catfish species as rohu and carp—species that are legally allowed to be imported. Federal agents then embargoed the shipments, and CBP officials safely destroyed all of the illegally imported catfish.

As a result of this investigation, defendant Mahmud Chowdhury was sentenced to 3 years probation, a $25,000 fine, and 300 hours of community service. Defendants Belayet Hussain, Shakil Ahmed, and Firoz Ahammad were each sentenced to 2 years probation, $5,000 fines, and 200 hours of community service. Together, the four defendants were also sentenced to a $354,000 joint asset forfeiture.

To protect public health, federal authorities regulate seafood imports. Imported catfish have tested positive for chemicals banned in the U.S. such as malachite green, a carcinogen. They can be exposed to various other contaminants including heavy metals, pesticides, antimicrobials, and salmonella. OLE agents and officers regularly inspect shipments at airports, container ports, and other seafood commerce locations to prevent illegal seafood imports and to protect public health and safety.

The verdict was reached thanks to the coordinated efforts of:

  • NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection
  • Homeland Security Investigations
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General
  • Department of Justice

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