February 8, 2006

California Men Indicted on Shark Smuggling Charges

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A federal grand jury has indicted a church pastor and five others for trying to catch and sell small leopard sharks found off the Pacific Coast, officials said on Wednesday.

In a January 24 indictment unsealed on Tuesday and announced on Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney for Northern California said the group harvested thousands of sharks smaller than 36 inches, which are protected by law. Then about 465 were sold to pet trade distributors in the United States, the Netherlands and Britain, according to the indictment.

One of the accused men, Kevin Thompson, 48, was a pastor at a San Leandro, California church which co-owns a boat. Several others charged had links to aquariums.

Leopard sharks typically grow to a length of three to six feet and eat worms, clams and crustaceans.