Palau Hotel Accused Of Illegally Cooking Protected Fish

admin's picture

Kitchen allegedly sought out Humphead Parrotfish, Napoleon Wrasse

By Jose Rodriguez T. Senase

KOROR, Palau (Island Times, Oct. 13, 2015) – The Office of the Attorney General, on behalf of the Republic, has filed a civil complaint against Toward Enterprise Palau Co. (TEP) dba Palau Vacation Hotel (PVH) for violating the Marine Protection Act of 1994.

The Complaint was filed at the Palau Supreme Court on October 9, 2015.

Also named as defendants in the case were Chenwei Gou and Xin Wang, who are both Chinese nationals. Gou is a kitchen assistant at the PVH working under Wang. Wang is the PVH’s Food and Beverage Director,.

The Complaint states that six violations of the Marine Protection Act were committed by Defendants by purchasing, receiving, or possessing six locally caught Napoleon Wrasse.

It says Defendants are jointly and severally liable to the Plaintiff for a civil penalty up to $200,000 for each violation.

The Complaint also states that another 82 violations of the same Act were committed by Defendants by purchasing, receiving, or possessing 82 locally caught Humphead Parrotfish.

According to the Complaint, the Defendants are jointly and severally liable to the Plaintiff for a civil penalty up to $200,000 for each violation.

The Republic is asking the Court to award it damages in the amount not less than $1,760,000.

It also requests the Court to enjoin Defendants from further violations of the Marine Protection Act and award it any other relief it is lawfully authorized to do so.

The PVH started operations last year.

In late 2014, the Hotel recognized a growing demand for various protected species of fish including Napoleon Wrasse and Hump Head Parrot Fish. The Food and Beverage manager for the hotel, Wang, sought out protected species of fish despite the fact that possession of these species is illegal.

Wang had photographs of Napoleon Wrasse and Hump Head Parrot Fish that he would show to local fishermen as examples of what he wanted to purchase fresh from local waters.

The local fishermen were happy to oblige Wang as he paid a fair price in cash for the Napoleon Wrasse and Hump Head Parrot Fish. One of the fishermen warned Wang that the Napoleon Wrasse and Hump Head Parrot Fish requested by the Hotel were illegal, and his carelessness would result in problems for all involved. Wang was unfazed.

By December of 2014, the Hotel was developing a reputation, among local fishermen and consumers, for illegally purchasing and selling the much desired Napoleon Wrasse and Hump Head Parrot Fish on its dinner menu.

Eventually the Hotel’s offerings became known to authorities. On December 23, 2014, Conservation Officers visited the Hotel to discuss with management the exotic and illegal menu offerings of Napoleon Wrasse and Hump Head Parrot Fish.

Wang was the Hotel’s contact person who purchased Napoleon Wrasse, Hump Head Parrot Fish and Hawksbill turtles from local fishermen, and he was present when ROP officials arrived on December 23, 2014.

Gou, as kitchen assistant, helped prepare Napoleon Wrasse and Hump Head Parrot Fish to sell to hotel guests.

ROP officials were initially denied access to the kitchen. While they waited, several officers pointed out frenzy of furtive activity visible around the Hotel kitchen.

Hotel kitchen staff was frantically attempting to hide food trays and food containers. They were carrying trays, and secreting them in areas other than stoves ovens, reach in freezers and refrigerators. Officers followed staff as they stashed the food trays in a variety of clandestine locations including inside the Hotel’s generator housing.

Gou was also instrumental in helping Defendants hide their illegal activities by placing Napoleon Wrasse and Hump Head Parrot Fish in various hiding places around the hotel so that ROP officials would not find them.

Unfortunately for Defendants in this matter, when wildlife officers finally entered the Hotel’s kitchen, they discovered the illegal Napoleon Wrasse , Hump Head Parrot fish in various states of preparation for service in meals placed everywhere in the kitchen except, where one would expect raw fish to be stored.

Investigation confirmed that Wang knowingly purchased the illegal marine life from local fishermen.

Hotel staff where aware that the Napoleon Wrasse and Hump Head Parrot Fish were protected species and that their purchase was illegal and tortuous.

Hotel staff was acting within the course and scope of their employment when they knowingly purchased the illegal marine life, prepared it in the Defendants’ kitchen, and sold it to Defendants’ guests.

When local fishermen were later interviewed, they detailed how Defendant Wang regularly purchased up to dozens of Napoleon Wrasse and Hump Head Parrot fish at a time knowing that possession of the fish was illegal.

Each of the witness fishermen who sold Napoleon Wrasse and Hump Head Parrot Fish to the Defendants will testify that each of the fish referenced in this complaint was caught in local waters in violation of Palau law.

In early 2014, fishermen sold three Napoleon Wrasse and one Hump Head Parrot Fish to Wang.

Another fisherman recounted how he sold three Napoleon Wrasse and at least six locally caught Hump Head Parrot Fish to Wang at the Hotel in 2014. That fisherman and his friends later sold at least 75 locally caught Hump Head Parrot Fish to Wang at the hotel.

Wang would place his fish orders with this fisherman by showing pictures of Napoleon Wrasse and Hump Head Parrot Fish and specifically requested these fish. At least one fisherman clearly explained to Wang that these were illegal species to take, possess, or serve in a restaurant. Wang was unmoved and completed the purchase of the Napoleon Wrasse and Hump Head Parrot fish.

Assistant Attorney Generals Loretta Wofford and James Oliver are representing the Republic in the case.

Palau has placed a moratorium on the fishing of Bumphead Parrotfish and Napoleon Wrasse, both of whom are threatened by overfishing.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment