The owner of a seafood company formerly associated with South Surrey has been ordered to pay a $2,000 fine after pleading guilty in October to illegally importing fish into the U.S. five years ago.
According to a news release issued by the U.S. Department of Justice, John Heras of Seven Seas Fish Company received the sentence – which also includes a year of probation – Friday (Dec. 6) in U.S. District Court in Seattle.
The company, which agreed in October to a $150,000 fine, was given six months to pay the penalty, and has been placed on three years probation, “with increased scrutiny and surveillance of its imports into the U.S.”
U.S. attorney Brian Moran noted the offence was the company’s “third strike.”
“On two prior occasions, this company put its financial success over the food import regulations and the safety of consumers,” Moran said in the release. “Now, with a third strike, it is appropriate that the company and its part-owner face a federal criminal conviction and its consequences.”
Seven Seas used to operate in South Point Annex, at 103-2990 152 St. It continues to do business in Kitsilano and Richmond.
A statement issued Friday by Seven Seas notes it has “vigorously defended the quality and safety of the 2014 fish shipment in question,” and that the guilty plea to the “misdemeanour violation” reflects this.
As well, the company has “learned from the event in question,” and has invested in its processes, tools and training “to ensure rigorous regulatory compliance and quality management.”
“Our company founder, John Heras, is no longer active in the business,” the statement adds.
According the U.S. DOJ release, the shipment in question was purchased in June 2014 from a seafood company in Mexico. After examination by Food and Drug Administration officers “determined that one-third of the samples … were more than 20 percent spoiled,” the fish was refused entry to the U.S.
Seven Seas then shipped it lawfully to its Richmond plant, claiming it would be distributed in Canada. Heras, after cooking and tasting some of the product, and “despite his knowledge that the fish had been refused entry to the U.S.,” encouraged others within the company to sell it to customers in Washington State and elsewhere, the release states.
No illness has been linked to those who ate the fish, it adds.
Seven Seas’ statement says third-party analysis “concluded the fish shipment was of the quality we expect – and met food quality and safety standards.”
“We understand that exporting products into the U.S. is a privilege, not a right. While we acknowledge our role in this matter and understand how our approach and communications with authorities should have been handled more proactively, at no time did we put customer health and safety at risk or accept and distribute sub-par quality.”
Regarding Moran’s “third strike” comment, the DOJ cites a 2008 seizure of Canadian salmon due to its capture by illegal gill netting, as well as a $50,000 fine levied in 2009 “for selling salmon without notifying regulators after the fish had been detained because it was found unfit for human consumption.”
“The fish was sold for mink feed, but without the required notice to the agency that had issued the detainer,” the release adds.
Seven Seas didn’t address the previous incidents in its initial emailed statement, but issued an amended statement Tuesday night to “disagree with the characterizations.”
“Neither were criminal nor impacted the quality of our products and the safety of our customers,” the amendment states.
Seven Seas was not a direct party to the illegal gill netting, it says – and no longer works with the buying agent it was dealing with at that time – and, the DOJ’s statement regarding the 2009 salmon sale was “misleading,” as the fish in question “was never intended for human consumption.”