Pennsylvania Man Charged with Trafficking in Endangered and Invasive Fish

A Pennsylvania man has been indicted in the Western District of Pennsylvania for violating the Lacey Act.

The three-count indictment charged Anthony Nguyen, aka JoJo Nguyen and Jackie Lee, 48, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with trafficking in endangered Asian arowana and invasive snakehead fish.  Nguyen owned and operated a Pittsburgh business specializing in the sale of rare and exotic freshwater tropical fish species.

“Snakeheads present a serious risk to our native ecosystems,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jonathan D. Brightbill for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “These fish are prohibited for a reason.  They are voracious predators, can live out of water for days, can move across land, and can wipe out the native species that inhabit freshwaters of the United States.” 

“The illegal trafficking of endangered and invasive wildlife represents a serious threat to our critical ecosystems,” said U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady of the Western District of Pennsylvania.  “I commend the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement for their investigation of this matter.  My office will continue to aggressively prosecute those individuals who engage in the illegal selling of wildlife.”

According to the indictment, Nguyen violated the Lacey Act in 2016 when he sold illegally imported Asian arowana, which are native to Southeast Asia and are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Arowana, also known as “dragon fish” or “Asian bonytongue fish,” are considered the most expensive freshwater fish on earth, with highly sought-after specimens selling for tens of thousands of dollars.  Arowana are also listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES), which is reserved for the most endangered species of fish and wildlife.

Nguyen was also charged under the Lacey Act for selling invasive injurious snakehead fish in 2019, in violation of Pennsylvania law, and for falsifying documents related to the snakehead shipment.  Snakeheads are native to Asia, but have been introduced into freshwater habitats in the U.S. 

The investigation is being conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement.  The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife also provided assistance during the investigation.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Patrick M. Duggan of the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric G. Olshan.

The details contained in the indictment are allegations.  The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice. Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.

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