The government cracked down on illegal tracking in the products of endangered species yesterday, indicting two seafood firms on charges of importing more than eight tons of Pacific Ridley turtle meat.
The Pacific or Olive Ridley turtle was placed on the endangered species list in 1978, after its population had been reduced from about 10 million to 400,000. The main threat to the Ridley has stemmed from the sale of its eggs, prized as a delicacy that supposedly enhances male sexual prowess.
The indictment yesterday focused on the meat of the turtle, however, Pat Leroy Pace and the Pace Fish Co. of Brownsville, Tex., and Ben Soloff and Ben Soloff Inc. of Philadelphia were indicted on 12 counts of illegal turtle trafficking.
The Justice Department said the firms obtained the meat from Mexico, and it was brought through customs falsely labeled as fish fillets.
Officials said the indictment was one of the larger endangered species criminal prosecutions, and the first generated by a recently formed interagency task force set up to cordinate enforcement of laws against trafficking in such products.
Officials said the meat is especially popular in New Orleans restaurants. The eggs enjoy a larger market, and the skins increasingly have been used to replace crocodile leather for pocketbooks, cowboy boots and other articles.
The defendants, if convicted, face fines of up to $20,000 and maximum prison terms of five years.