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Feds Net Large Haul of Illegal Shark Fins

SAN DIEGO (CN) - The United States said Thursday over 1,000 pounds of unpermitted hammerhead shark fins from at least 176 animals headed for Hong Kong were confiscated at the international Commercial Port of Entry.

The United States a forfeiture complaint against defendant "Approximately 490 Kilograms of Hammerhead Shark Fins" over an incident last May where a shipment of dried shark fins from Mexico was going through the inspection process before being imported into the United States through the Otay Mesa Commercial Port of Entry. The shipment was headed for its final destination of Hong Kong.

Upon inspection by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service inspector, the 26 boxes of shark fins were found to contain hammerhead shark fins. The fins cannot be exported from Mexico or imported into the United States without a permit from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which restricts the international trade and transportation of covered species that are highly migratory.

The fins from two different hammerhead shark species were found in the boxes - fins from the smooth hammerhead and scalloped hammerhead shark. Both hammerhead species are protected by the convention, and the scalloped hammerhead is also protected by the Endangered Species Act.

The two species are highly prized ingredients used in Chinese shark fin soup, according to the complaint.

Twelve random shark fins were selected for DNA analysis and were sent to the Fish and Wildlife Service's forensic laboratory, according to the complaint.

On May 29, 2015, the forensics laboratory notified the Fish and Wildlife inspector all 12 of the shark fins submitted for DNA evidence were confirmed as being smooth hammerhead shark fins.

In June, hundreds of pieces of evidence from the shipment - including 51 dried shark fins and 176 tissue samples - were obtained by certified wildlife forensic scientist Dr. Jenny Giles to determine if any of the shark fins came from protected species.

Two-hundred and forty-two of the 417 items examined by Giles were found to be fins from the smooth hammerhead and scalloped hammerhead shark. Another 118 items were also found to be body parts of the two hammerhead species.

The shark parts came from a minimum of 176 animals, according to the complaint.

The Mexican commercial invoice falsely and fraudulently identified the shark fins as those coming from other sharks not protected by federal law, according to the complaint.

Authorities also found the weight of the shark fins had been mislabeled on the Mexican invoice that accompanied the shipment. The invoice stated the shipment weighed 432 kilograms, or 950 pounds. But when inspectors weighed the shipment they found the actual weight was 490.79 kilograms - approximately 1,082 pounds, according to the complaint.

The shark fins were confiscated by the federal government and are being stored at an undisclosed location.

The U.S. Attorney's Office did not respond to multiple email requests for comment.

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