(CN) – Three men have been charged with smuggling live alligator gar without a permit from East Texas to Japan. The alligator gar, a prehistoric-looking fish with an enormous snout, is lousy eating, but can bring thousands of dollars as an aquarium fish in Japan.
Charged with Lacey Act violations in Beaumont Federal Court were Loren Willis, 62, of Eminence, Ind.; Gerard Longo, 46, of Greenacres, Fla.; and Michael Rambarran, 55, of Miami. If convicted, each man faces up to 5 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
Charges include conspiracy to submit a false label for fish in interstate commerce, conspiracy to transport fish in interstate commerce, and conspiracy to transport and sell fish in interstate commerce.
According to the indictment, the men conspired to take alligator gar from the Trinity River in East Texas for sale in Japan.
Alligator gars are popular as aquarium fish among wealthy Japanese collectors. They can grow to more than 8 feet long, and more than 200 lbs.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent Jim Stinebaugh told the Houston Chronicle that two Tokyo dealers paid the defendants $15,000 to procure the fish.
Willis said each fish was about 4 feet long – and that an 8-footer is worth $40,000 on the Japanese “monster” fish market.
Stinebaugh said in a sworn affidavit that Willis and Longo helped the Tokyo dealers catch four fish 8 months ago during a fishing trip on the river, and that it appeared to be an ongoing business.
Stinebaugh produced an email from Willis in which he told business partners that he wanted “10,000 babies” next year to keep in a swimming pool until ready to ship.
Gars are considered trash fish by most fishermen, when it comes to eating. They are bony and harder to clean than a catfish. The only way they are regularly consumed is chopped up into nuggets and deep fried. They are also remarkably hardy, large specimens able to survive in shallow, muddy water with low oxygen content, and to live for as long as 2 hours on land.
Investigators told the Chronicle it’s the first time they ever head of anyone being charged with smuggling alligator gar.