Investigation uncovers black market wildlife sales

November 3, 2011

For immediate release: November 3, 2011
Contact: Joy Hill, 352-258-3428

Investigation uncovers black market wildlife sales

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) law enforcement investigators recently concluded a large-scale undercover operation in Brevard and Indian River counties targeting black market sales of fish and wildlife.

The lengthy investigation yielded 65 citations or potential charges against 17 individuals, including one juvenile.
During the six-month-long operation, undercover FWC officers approached the owners or employees of 44 local restaurants and offered to sell them fish and wildlife species that are not legal to sell or purchase, or that require a permit or license to sell or purchase. At the same time, they told the restaurant personnel that they did not have the proper licenses or permits to sell to them. Personnel at 75 percent of the restaurants were not interested in buying, but employees at 25 percent of the restaurants purchased from the undercover officers posing as illegal sellers.

“The owner or employees of 11 restaurants bought the illegally offered fish and wildlife not once, but several times,” said FWC Capt. Gregg Eason, investigations supervisor. “They purchased game or restricted species such as snook, native redfish, alligators, softshell turtles and various other species of freshwater and saltwater game fish from investigators.”

Throughout the covert operation and afterwards, FWC law enforcement worked closely with the state attorney’s offices in Brevard and Indian River counties. One restaurant owner from Indian River County pleaded guilty to charges and is awaiting sentencing. Another nine people from five other restaurants have been cited for violations including purchasing from an unlicensed dealer, purchasing game fish (snook, redfish, freshwater largemouth bass), purchasing freshwater turtle or eggs, and records violations. In addition, charges against personnel from several other restaurants are pending completion of the investigation.

“We conduct investigations like this to discourage people from illegally selling or purchasing Florida’s natural resources because it hurts commercial fishermen and their livelihood, and the resource itself,” said Eason.

Legal commercial fishermen report their catch to resource managers, who use that information to assess the fisheries stocks – how the fish populations are doing. Those assessments lead to decisions on how many fish can be taken to maintain a healthy balance between resource and harvest. The black market trade for fish and wildlife undermines resource managers’ abilities to properly assess and manage the resource.

Below is a summary of the citations and individuals who have already been charged or have pleaded guilty:

Felix Fajardo (DOB 11/30/70), Felix’s Place, 2625 Aviation Blvd., Vero Beach – pleaded guilty to four counts of purchasing from an unlicensed dealer, one count of purchasing snook;

Yang Fu Liang (DOB 11/09/48), Szechuan Palace, 1965 43rd Ave., Vero Beach, one count of purchasing from an unlicensed dealer, one count of purchasing freshwater fish (largemouth bass);

Zhou Rong Ni (DOB 02/06/60), China Wok, 7960 Highway 1, Micco, two counts of purchasing from an unlicensed dealer, two counts of purchasing red drum, one count of a records violation;

Huaying Ni (DOB 06/19/69), China Wok, 7960 Highway 1, Micco, three counts of purchasing from an unlicensed dealer, one count of purchasing snook, one count of purchasing red drum, one count of a records violation;

Zhen He Li (DOB 09/15/65), New China Buffet, 2035 N. Atlantic Ave., Cocoa Beach, five counts of purchasing from an unlicensed dealer, two counts of purchasing snook, two counts of purchasing red drum, one count of purchasing freshwater fish (largemouth bass), two counts of purchasing freshwater turtle;

Lin Ke He (DOB/05/05/70), New China Buffet, 2035 N. Atlantic Ave., Cocoa Beach, one count of purchasing from an unlicensed dealer, three counts of purchasing freshwater fish (largemouth bass);

Zheng Zhi Zheng (DOB 11/25/77), First Wok, 3235 Garden St., Titusville, two counts of purchasing from an unlicensed dealer, one count of purchasing red drum, one count of purchasing freshwater fish (largemouth bass);

Zheng Fang Mei (DOB 10/22/87), New Peking Buffet, 725 N. Washington Ave., Titusville, one count of purchasing from an unlicensed dealer, one count of purchasing freshwater fish (largemouth bass), other charges pending;

Ricardo Sanchez-Diaz (10/16/86), New Peking Buffet, 725 N. Washington Ave., Titusville, one count of purchasing from an unlicensed dealer, one count of purchasing freshwater fish (largemouth bass), other charges pending;

Lanzhen Wang (05/26/80), New Peking Buffet, 725 N. Washington Ave., Titusville, one count of purchasing from an unlicensed dealer, one count of purchasing snook.

Charges are also pending against personnel from Hong Kong Super Buffet in Melbourne and China Garden and Caribbean Cove restaurants, both in Cocoa. Personnel from another restaurant, Oriental Buffet in Satellite Beach, purchased from the undercover officers during the investigation, but the restaurant shut down before the investigation was finished and employees could not be located.
If you know of illegal activity involving fish and wildlife resources, please report it to the FWC through the agency’s Wildlife Alert Hotline. The number is 888-404-3922 and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You may also text it to Tip@MyFWC.com or report it online to MyFWC.com/WildlifeAlert. Tipsters may remain anonymous and could be eligible for a reward if their information leads to an arrest.

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