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Court Lets Seafood Co. Off The Hook For Shark Fins

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A Hong Kong seafood company slipped out of the U.S. government's prosecution net after 64,695 pounds of illegal shark fins were seized on board the charter ship King Diamond II, because the ship was not considered a "fishing vessel" under the Shark Finning Prohibition Act.

Tai Loong Hong Marine Products (TLH) chartered the U.S.-owned KD II to buy shark fins from foreign fishing boats on the high seas, transport the fins to Guatemala and deliver them to TLH.

The government seized the fins under the Act, which prohibits any person aboard a U.S. fishing vessel from possessing shark fins obtained through illegal "shark finning."

TLH admits that the KD II bought shark fins from foreign fishing ships on its behalf, but claims that the KD II is not a fishing vessel under the law, so the forfeiture violated due process.

A unanimous three-judge panel held that the government failed to give TLH fair notice that the charter ship would be considered a fishing vessel. Further, the ship's role in buying and delivering shark fins to resell at a foreign port "falls within the ambit of international trade."

The court reversed the judgment of forfeiture and remanded.

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