January 9, 2008 / 12:28 AM / in 10 years

Canadian firm fined in conch smuggling scheme

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - A Canadian company has been fined nearly C$80,000 ($80,000) after it admitted illegally smuggling endangered queen conch from Haiti to the United States, wildlife officials said on Tuesday.

Pacific Marine Union Corp smuggled more than 24,000 kg (54,000 pounds) of queen conch meat to Florida via Canada, labeling the shellfish delicacy as clams or whelk so it could be shipped legally, Environment Canada said.

A U.S. border officer in Buffalo, New York, discovered the smuggling operation in 2006 while inspecting a truck carrying seafood labeled as being Canadian harvested whelk. Inspectors used DNA testing to prove it was actually conch.

Queen conch, also known as pink conch, is an endangered shellfish found in the waters of the Caribbean. It is considered a seafood delicacy, but its sale is limited by international treaty.

Queen conch can live for more than 20 years and play an important ecological role by eliminating dead seagrass from the ocean floor, but its population collapsed amid overfishing in the 1980s.

The Vancouver company was charged after an 18-month investigation that also seized conch in Halifax and Montreal. Two Florida men were fined by Canada last year for their roles in the smuggling scheme.

($1=$1 Canadian)

Reporting by Allan Dowd; editing by Rob Wilson

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