23 May 2013

Aquatic trade association OATA has welcomed the jail sentence handed out to a Manchester importer found guilty of illegally importing endangered corals and clams into the UK.

At Crown Square Crown Court on Wednesday (22 May), 23-year-old Alex Montgomery of Mottram Old Road, Stalybridge in Greater Manchester was sentenced to six months for trying to smuggle over 750 kilograms of rare and endangered corals and clams from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, according to the Border Force.

“We hope this six-month jail sentence sends a clear message that the Border Force and the courts take this type of behaviour very seriously and we welcome this because the aquatic industry does not in any way support the illegal trade in any species,” said OATA Chief Executive Keith Davenport.

“Illegally selling corals and clams to other traders and then to unsuspecting hobbyists is not a victimless crime. Touting these species to customers allows the criminal to undercut and out-compete honest businesses. They avoid paying export and import permit fees, making their goods seem cheaper, and they entice custom away from honest businesses by offering a wider range of species that legitimate businesses then seem to lack. By doing this they jeopardise honest businesses and jobs in the UK and sustainable livelihoods elsewhere in the world that the legitimate trade provides.

“We certainly don’t consider these kinds of incidents as trivial or inconsequential in terms of conservation or business and clearly the courts agree.

“The basic rules regarding hard corals, clams and sea horses requiring CITES permits to enable them to be legitimately imported into the country are easy to understand and well-known to the industry. So we regard the type of behaviour displayed by this man as born out of greed, not ignorance. We’ve kept our members up-to-date on what is legal to sell so we would urge marine aquarium enthusiasts to always buy from reputable retailers, such as OATA members.

“If an offer from an importer/wholesaler on a coral, clam or seahorse looks too good to be true then there’s probably a reason for that. We would strongly advise that retailers should always ask for a permit number if they suspect things are not as they should be. Customs can use business records to trace where illegal imports were sold and these businesses could then find themselves under scrutiny.

“And we’d remind people that the ownership of illegal corals is a continuing offence – once imported illegally they remain illegal forever – so it is not in anyone’s interest to buy these items in the first place.”