Lake Huron kept safe from dreaded snakehead thanks to arrest

ONTARIO–Our waterways are safe from the fearsome snakehead for now–the voracious invasive predator–thanks to the joint investigative operation ‘Operation Serpent.’

Following a multi-agency, international undercover operation, a Toronto man and a Markham area business have been fined $70,000 for selling snakehead, an invasive fish species.

When victim surcharges and other penalties are added in, the total rises to $90,530.

Court heard that Muk Leung (Jim) Ip, 50, sold 228 snakehead fish at Lucky Aquarium in Markham on four occasions between June 2010 and January 2012. Some of these fish were unlawfully exported to New York State and Manitoba. As part of the plea agreement, Mr. Ip was arrested by US authorities and taken into custody in New York State to answer to charges laid there.

Mr. Ip has been sentenced to 60 days in jail and fined $10,000 for illegally selling snakehead. He also has to return $3,000 he received for selling the fish. Lucky Aquarium of Markham has been fined $60,000 for illegally selling snakehead.

Mr. Ip and Lucky Aquarium also have a two-year probation order that requires them to pay $2,500 to publish notices in Ontario and New York State about the threats posed by invasive fish species and the consequences for those who deal in them.

The convictions are as follows:

Ministry of Natural Resources, Enforcement Branch: Four convictions under Ontario’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1997, for unlawfully selling snakehead fish.

Environment Canada, Wildlife Enforcement Division: One conviction against Mr. Ip and Lucky Aquarium for exporting snakehead fish to New York State and one conviction against Mr. Ip and Lucky Aquarium for transporting snakehead fish between Ontario and Manitoba under the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act, 1992.

US Fish and Wildlife Service: One conviction against Mr. Ip for knowingly exporting, transporting and selling giant snakehead fish from Canada to the State of New York in violation of Canadian and New York State laws under the Lacey Act.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation: One conviction of misdemeanour regarding illegal commercialization of an invasive species, snakehead fish, by selling, trading or bartering in violation of New York State Environmental Conservation Law.

The snakehead fish is a voracious predator with sharp teeth that can travel on land for short distances. Some species of snakehead can survive out of water for up to four days and can also survive coldwater temperatures.

If it becomes established in lakes, the snakehead has the potential to decimate fish stocks. Ontario banned the live purchase of snakehead in 2004 and in 2005 banned its live possession.

The investigation concluded on October 12, 2012 when guilty pleas were entered in Ontario Court of Justice in Newmarket under Justice of the Peace Dan M. MacDonald. Sentencing took place in Newmarket on November 9, 2012.

To report a natural resources violation, call 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667) toll free any time or contact your local ministry office during regular business hours. You can also call Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).