The following press release is courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife:
A Los Angeles Superior Court judged against a group of people and businesses who imported and sold live, non-native abalone in Los Angeles in violation of California law.
In July of 2019, law enforcement officers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) discovered that non-native abalone were being unlawfully sold while still alive at Galleria Market on West Olympic Blvd. in Los Angeles. To be sure, undercover wildlife officers purchased live, non-native abalone specimens from the store. CDFW’s Wildlife Forensic Laboratory conducted DNA testing on the purchased abalone and confirmed they were disk abalone, a species that is not native to California.
The officers’ subsequent investigation determined that live, non-native disk abalone were being illegally imported through Los Angeles International Airport from South Korea. Wildlife officers determined that between approximately April 20, 2018, and August 2, 2019, Galleria Market unlawfully purchased at least 797 live disk abalone specimens and unlawfully sold 719 of those specimens to its retail customers. These purchases and sales of disk abalone were done without a restricted species permit authorizing any importation or sale of a live specimen of abalone that is not native to California.
The court’s judgment prohibits Galleria Market, LP, HK Galleria Holdings, Inc., H.K. Partners, LLC, and Young Jun Kim from any further importation or sale of live, non-native abalone except as permitted by California law. The court ordered the defendants to make a public announcement regarding the illegality of their sales, to pay $174,242 in civil penalties and $4,757.03 to CDFW as reimbursement for its investigative costs. The defendants must also make a $20,000 payment to the California Wildlife Officer Foundation’s Californians Turn in Poachers and Polluters (“CalTIP”) reward fund.
California’s native abalone populations, once known as a popular sport and commercial fishery, are now in peril. Two of California’s eight native abalone species, the white abalone and black abalone, are listed as federally endangered species. Other native abalone species, including the once populous red abalone species, are also in decline due to kelp loss, climate change and related factors. All commercial fishing for abalone has been banned since 1997 and sport take of abalone has been closed since 2017.
Despite the closed commercial seasons, there is a robust demand for abalone in seafood markets and restaurants across the state. Licensed California aquaculture farms fulfill part of that demand by legally farming red abalone. The demand for legal abalone still outstrips the supply from legal abalone farms and commercial fish businesses have been searching for a way to fill that demand. All non-native abalone species are prohibited from importation into California due to concerns over the introduction of an exotic species to local waters and the diseases they potentially carry that could affect native populations, including the endangered white and black abalone.
The case was referred to the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office’s Environmental Justice and Protection Unit (“EJU”) for prosecution. The EJU prosecuted the case as a civil law enforcement action under California’s Unfair Competition Law.
“I want to thank CDFW for its dedication to protecting California’s native habitat and for its long-standing partnership with the Office of the Los Angeles City Attorney to protect our environment, including important, but imperiled keystone species,” said Jessica B. Brown, Supervisor of L.A. City Attorney Hydee Feldstein Soto’s EJU. “Businesses need to play by the rules. In this case, the alleged illegal practices could have had a devastating effect on native marine life that play a needed role in the stability and diversity of their natural habits, and which are already severely struggling.”
“The Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office’s EJU has been a steadfast partner in prosecuting violations of California’s environmental laws and in securing impactful dispositions,” said David Bess, CDFW’s Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division. “Announcing today’s fines and civil penalties will serve as a deterrent to future would-be violators, reimburse the costs associated with the investigation, contribute to the reward fund for those members of the public who bring these violations to our attention and help prevent the inadvertent introduction of exotic species of abalone or any diseases that may be transmitted to our already vulnerable native abalone populations.”
If you witness a poaching or polluting incident, or any fish and wildlife violation, or have information about such a violation, immediately dial the toll free CALTIP number 1 888 334-CALTIP (888 334-2258), 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Or submit anonymous tips to CDFW using tip411. Tip411 is an internet-based tool from CitizenObserver.com(opens in new tab)that enables the public to text message an anonymous tip to wildlife officers and lets the officers respond back creating an anonymous two-way conversation. Anyone with a cell phone may send an anonymous tip to CDFW by texting “CALTIP”, followed by a space and the message, to 847411 (tip411). More information at wildlife.ca.gov/Enforcement/CalTIP.