MARIGOT–Authorities this week seized a ton of frozen conch off the coast of Anse Marcel and three St. Martin importers face a heavy fine or imprisonment, or both, for illegally importing the goods, Prosecutor Yves Paillard disclosed in a release.
The large haul of conch was immediately destroyed with the assistance of rangers from Réserve Naturelle.
Environmental police from Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage (ONCFS) led the controls on importing of conch as part of the international operation “Thunderbird” initiated by Interpol to check international businesses for violations of the Washington Convention of March 3, 1973. The Convention protects wild species, flora and fauna, threatened with extinction.
The action was initiated after the observation made by an international consortium fighting crime related to wild life (CITES.org) at the last conference in Johannesburg that more operational actions were necessary to have the convention respected, as in some cases it is simply ignored.
The jointly organised controls included Environmental Police (specific to overseas territories), agents from Agence Française de la Biodiversité, and ONCFS.
The controls were endorsed by the Prosecutor’s Office. Conch is a protected species but in high demand for restaurants. Fishing for conch is only allowed for professional fishermen between October 1 and January 1.
Importing from a state that is not a European Union member requires a special import permit as of June 30, 1998, while only an invoice is needed if inside the EU.
All restaurants have to justify where their seafood products are coming from by producing bills and a first inter-service mission on this subject for restaurants was held on October 26 with environmental police on respecting the regulations.
The three importers implicated have violated article L415-3 of the Environmental Code of the Washington Convention. They will likely face a fine proportionate to the volume of conch seized for a first offence.
The standard penalties are two years in prison, a 150,000 euro fine and professional disqualification.