10 Indonesian Fishermen Accused of Shark Fin Smuggling

A great white shark in 2009 off the coast of South Africa. Photo: Hermanus Backpackers / Wikimedia Commons
A great white shark in 2009 off the coast of South Africa. Photo: Hermanus Backpackers / Wikimedia Commons

HONOLULU — Ten Indonesian fishermen arrested in Hawaii are accused of trying to smuggle nearly 1,000 shark fins from the U.S. to Indonesia.

They had been working on a Japanese-flagged boat and were headed home via Honolulu when airport security workers found shark fins in their luggage last week, according to court documents.

At least 962 shark finds were founded in 13 pieces of luggage. Some were from oceanic whitetip sharks, authorities said.

It’s against U.S law to engage in international trade of a protected species without a permit. It’s also illegal to possess, sell or distribute shark fins in Hawaii, which was the first state in the nation to ban the pricey delicacy often used in soups.


The luggage included cardboard boxes, backpacks and suitcases.

“Fins were bundled together, and some were wrapped in foil. Some fins were sealed into clear and opaque bags, such as empty bags of rice, that obscured the contents, and those bags were, in turn, sealed within other opaque bags, apparently to contain odor or otherwise obscure the contents,” a complaint filed in court said.

During questioning, one of the fishermen told authorities that while at sea, they cut fins off live sharks and threw the bodies back. Another fisherman said he ate sharks on the boat and cut off the fins, according to court documents, and that he didn’t want dead sharks to go to waste.

Authorities estimate that the 190 pounds (89 kilograms) of seized shark fins have a street value of between USD$6,695 and $57,850.

A U.S. judge allowed them to be released on $10,000 unsecured bonds, each. Through an Indonesian interpreter, U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin Chang explained to them they won’t have to pay any of the $10,000 if they stay out of trouble.


They were expected to be released from U.S. custody Tuesday and then taken to a Honolulu hotel.

The fishermen can’t leave the island of Oahu without court permission, Chang said, and they can’t discuss the case with each other.

Story: Jennifer Sinco Kelleher