The owner of a Washington-state seafood company will spend two years in prison for overharvesting sea cucumbers and pay $1.5 million in restitution—the second such big bust in the West in just over a year. Hoon Namkoong, 62, was also sentenced Friday to three years of post-prison supervision. He pleaded guilty earlier this year in US District Court in Seattle to underreporting the number of sea cucumbers he bought from tribal and nontribal fisheries in the Puget Sound by nearly 250,000 pounds between 2014 and 2016. Orient Seafood Production then sold to buyers in Asia and the US. The illegal harvest amounted to nearly 20% of the total allowed statewide, said US Attorney Annette Hayes, and seriously damaged the Puget Sound. "Illegal harvesting undermines quotas designed to protect the resource and keep the Sound healthy for our children and generations to come," Hayes said.
Sea cucumbers, which are shaped like cucumbers with small feet and measure up to 6 feet, are echinoderms, a family that includes starfish and sea urchins. They're served dried or fresh and are often braised with fish, vegetables, and traditional Chinese sauces. They're sought to treat various health issues, reports the AP, and are increasingly in demand in China and Southeast Asian countries. Harvesting sea cucumbers is permitted in the United States and many parts of the world, but with limited quantities and only during high season. Illegal trade is becoming increasingly common and lucrative. Last year, federal officials filed charges against a father-son partnership for allegedly smuggling more than $17 million worth of sea cucumbers from Mexico to the United States and exporting them to Asia.