A Brooklyn seafood importer has been accused of illegally importing nearly 4,000 snakehead fish, a predatory freshwater creature known as "fishzilla" that has been outlawed in New York state since 2004.
Yong Hao Wu, a co-owner of Howei Trading, Inc., of Brooklyn, faces up to four years in prison if convicted on charges of felony commercialization of wildlife and importing fish dangerous to indigenous fish populations.
Snakeheads are air-breathers and can travel short distances over land, writhing their body and fins until they reach a suitable aquatic habitat, according to prosecutors.
On Feb. 13, 2010, a state Department of Environmental Conservation officer at John F. Kennedy International Airport inspected a shipment of 353 fish imported by Howei Trading that had been declared as Chinese black sleeper fish, according to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.
The 190-pound shipment, which had arrived from China on EVA Air, was allowed to continue on to Howei Trading under mobile surveillance.
At the Brooklyn warehouse, Department of Environmental Conservation officers seized the shipment, and found the fish were actually live snakeheads, according to Brown. The DEC officers also found a tank containing 82 additional snakehead fish.
Prosecutors say the 3,889 fish Wu imported between Jan. 24, 2010 and Feb. 10, 2010 had also been declared as Chinese black sleeper fish but were actually snakeheads.
Snakeheads, native to Asia, are considered a Chinese and Korean delicacy, and are often intended to be used as food.
According to DEC Commissioner Joe Martens, the imported fish were often purchased as pets and later released into New York's waterways, damaging or destroying native fish species.
"With no natural predators in the U.S., these voracious feeders out-compete native species, disrupting both native waterways and the commercial fishing industry dependent on native species," the DA's office said.
Wu is being held pending arraignment. The DA could not immediately say whether he had an attorney.