5 More Charged In Hawaii Shark Fin Smuggling Case

Last month, 10 Indonesian fishermen working on a Japanese longline vessel Kyoshin Maru No. 20 were caught trying to smuggle 962 shark fins in their luggage through Honolulu International Airport. Now, five more have been charged with aiding and abetting and the smuggling of goods in the transport of those fins including Hamada Suisan Co., Ltd. aka Hamada Suisan Kabushiki Kaisha (a Japanese business that owned and operated the vessel, JF Zengyoren (fishing cooperative who the boat belonged to), Hiroyuki Kasagami (captain), Toshiyuki Komatsu (fishing master of the vessel), Hiroshi Chiba (first engineer of the vessel). The three individuals were not arrested as they are considered at large, most likely home in Japan, but face a maximum fine of $2.75 million each. The two corporations charged each face a maximum fine of $5.5 million. It's possible they also violated Japanese law by retaining Ocean White Tip Sharks and Silky Sharks, both of which are protected species, and by not landing the sharks whole before finning them.

Court documents allege all three individuals (captain, fishing master, and chief/first engineer) authorized the discard of the shark carcasses and the possession and transport of the fins. Fishing master and chief/first engineer explicitly directed the Indonesian fishermen to cut off the fins. The chief/first engineer also directed the fishermen to package some of the fins for himself and the chief officer to take with them after they disembarked. All three kept fins for themselves to bring back to Japan, without the required body of the shark they were finned from.

The written employment agreements of the hired Indonesian fishermen (who were arrested last month) were also reviewed for the case. Language strongly suggested they were already anticipating harvesting shark fins, stating, "In case of any sales of shark fins, it is up to fishing master's decision whether to give share to the fishing worker or not." The first engineer even brought a large supply of Ziploc bags aboard, specifically for storing shark fins throughout the voyage. The fishermen told authorities that the Japanese crew members took about the same amount of fins they had with them back to Japan, but took the caudal and dorsal fins because they are larger and more valuable, giving the fishermen the smaller pectoral fins.

The shark fins were said to be harvested primarily from sharks caught as bycatch. Some were alive, but the fishing master, Toshiyuki Komatsu, ordered the fishermen to NOT cut the line and release the shark alive as it would mean losing the fishing rigged line and hook. Instead he ordered them to kill the sharks or intentionally weaken them to retrieve them. The fishermen admitted that they sometimes cut the line anyways when the fishing master was not looking because they were afraid they would be injured by one of the sharks.

This wasn't the Kyoshin Maru No. 20's only shark finning experience. The vessel engaged in shark finning activities from 1999-2010 then resumed this year under the order of the current fishing master. Back then it was common for the fishing master to give the fishermen 10,000 yen (less than 100 USD) in "fin money" at the end of a trip for partaking in the finning. When choosing to resume shark finning this year, the fishing master decided to give the fishermen some of the fins instead. The fishermen also spoke of other shark incidents while working on Japanese longline vessels, recalling a time when they had an "observer" onboard and were told to keep both the fins and shark bodies in the freezer (as required by law). However, once the observer disembarked, the fishing master directed the fishermen to dump the bodies overboard and only keep the fins.

The sharks were most likely fished during their longline tuna fishing efforts in the Southern Eastern Pacific Ocean, ENE of Tahiti, approximately a third of the way between Tahiti towards Mexico. It is estimated 300 sharks were harvested.

Dec. 11, 2018 Court Documents

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