Conserving the Nature of America

News Release

California Man Indicted for Importing Endangered Asian Fish into Oregon

July 25, 2002


Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220

A California man is scheduled to face trial September 17, 2002, in U.S. District Court in Portland on charges related to the illegal importation and sale of Asian arowana, a unique, colorful fish native to Malaysia and Indonesia. The fish, which can sell for as much as $10,000 each, is protected as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. Importing them into the United States is illegal.

The trial was scheduled after Lloyd Gomez, 25, of Modesto, California, pleaded not guilty Friday, July 19, before U.S. District Judge Dennis Hubel. A federal indictment alleges that Gomez and Joe Lian Ho Luah of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, conspired to import and sell the endangered fish, illegally transported them into the United States in violation of the Endangered Species Act, and falsified documents in an attempt to pass through U.S. Customs. The men also face one count of wire fraud, which charges them with using the Internet to communicate illegal activities via email. Gomez faces an additional charge of making false statements to law enforcement officials.

Each of the charges carries a maximum penalty of $250,000 and/or five years imprisonment. Gomez is free on personal recognizance pending trial. Luah remains in Canada.

The indictment alleges that Luah established a tropical fish business called Emperor Pond in Canada, where it is legal to import and sell captive-bred Asian arowana, and used that business to smuggle the fish to Gomez for illegal sale to customers in the United States. In furtherance of the conspiracy, the indictment alleges, Luah consigned a shipment of 11 Asian arowana to Gomez on September 9, 2001, from Edmonton, Alberta to Portland, Oregon, and falsely identified them in an invoice presented to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as cichlids, tropical fish that are legal to import. Upon inspection by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents, the fish were determined to be Asian arowana.

Asian arowana are very popular among aquarium hobbyists because of their vibrant colors, unique shape, and air of mystery. The fish has large scales and barbels, which resemble horns, giving them the nickname "dragonfish." Asian arowana, are believed to symbolize luck, wealth, prosperity and strength.

Asian arowana have three natural color variations: golden, red, and green. Breeders in Asia have created several other variations by interbreeding the fish. Due to their great demand, Asian arowana can sell for as much as $10,000, depending on the variety and quality. Wild populations of Asian arowana have severely declined, causing them to be listed as an Appendix I species under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Trading of the wild fish is illegal. However, 23 CITES-registered breeding facilities in Asia are producing fish that can be exported for sale. These fish are legal to export to Canada and elsewhere, but not to the United States, where they are protected and the importation of either captive-bred or wild Asian arowana is prohibited.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses nearly 540 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
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