BOSTON (CN) – A federal judge refused to change the definition of “wildlife” to exonerate a dishonest fishmonger.
After a five-day trial in April, Stephen Delaney was convicted of one felony count of false labeling of fish, in violation of the Lacey Act.
He then sought acquittal, based on the Lacey Act’s definition of “fish or wildlife” as “any wild animal, whether alive or dead … whether or not bred, hatched, or born in captivity.”
The fish in question were pollock. Delaney claimed that “no evidence was offered by the government suggesting that they ever ‘lived outside of captivity.'”
“The plain language of this definition includes animals that were ‘bred, hatched, or born in captivity,’ but it does not include animals that spent their entire lives in captivity and which never lived in the wild,” Delaney claimed.
U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns found the argument unpersuasive, and poured it on the fishmonger, calling his notion “unworkable in practice and contrary to the accepted biological distinction between wild and domesticated animals.”
“Under Delaney’s proposed definition of what it means to be wild, a domestic animal, say a house cat, that is separated from its owner and lives in a feral state, however briefly before finding its way home, would be classified as wildlife, while a lion that is born and raised in captivity and spends its life in a zoo would be classified as a domestic animal,” Stearns wrote.
“The pollock at issue here, whether raised in a pen or caught on the high seas is an unmastered species that has not been bred to live under human care and therefore meets any reasonable biological definition of what it means to be a ‘wild’ animal.”
Delaney also claimed that the government had failed to prove that the pollock had originated in China, and thus had been a part of interstate commerce.
However, “Delaney’s recorded conversations with [the co-conspirator who sold him out] made clear that he knew that he was being asked to relabel fish imported from China as having originated in Canada,” Stearns wrote.
“A federal court may not set aside a jury verdict … unless no reasonable jury could have returned [such a verdict],” the judge added.