On May 23, 2023, Jiu Fa Chen, was sentenced to 5 years probation and a $100,000 fine for falsely labeling and exporting foreign-bought spiny lobsters as “Products of the U.S.A.” Chen’s company, AIFA Seafood Incorporated, was sentenced to 5 years probation and a $250,000 fine. It is now subject to rigorous compliance measures for all future business activities. In addition, Elite Sky International Incorporated, was recently sentenced to a $250,000 fine and similar compliance measures. It was running the same illegal labeling scheme as AIFA Seafood.
“These individuals and companies intentionally misrepresented their lobster to be something that it’s not—a product of the United States,” said Manny Antonaras, Assistant Director of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement, Southeast Division. “Fishermen and seafood producers who play by the rules deserve to be competitive in global markets. We work hard to help create an even playing field where domestic fishermen can market their American-caught products proudly around the world.”
AIFA Seafood’s illegal activity was first detected through compliance checks performed under the Seafood Import Monitoring Program. An additional anonymous letter detailed elaborate schemes to illegally import spiny lobster to the United States. They would then be illegally exported to China under the false “Product of the U.S.A.” label.
Through a joint undercover operation, we identified that AIFA Seafood had imported lobster from Haiti to its facilities in Florida. The imported lobster were repackaged into boxes labeled “Live Florida Spiny Lobster Product of USA” and illegally exported to China. In total, 5,900 pounds of lobster were illegally exported under this scheme with an estimated retail market value of over $206,500. The investigation uncovered a similar scheme by Elite Sky International to falsely label, and export more than 63,000 pounds of foreign lobster imports as products of the U.S.A. They also shipped more than 5,600 pounds of shark fins falsely labeled as “Frozen Fish.”
When seafood companies deliberately mislabel and misrepresent U.S. seafood exports, they disadvantage honest fishermen. The reporting and records requirements of the Seafood Import Monitoring Program are critical to protecting law-abiding fishermen and seafood producers’ competitiveness in global markets.
These cases were prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida. They were made possible through close collaboration between:
- NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement
- NOAA’s Office of International Affairs, Trade, and Commerce
- U.S. Department of Homeland Security
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection
- Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
To report suspected seafood violations, contact NOAA’s Law Enforcement Hotline at (800) 853-1964.