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Man Pleads Guilty To Mislabeling Piranhas

A tropical fish importer mislabeled over 39,000 piranhas that he had imported from Hong Kong throughout 2011 and 2012. The fish were labeled as harmless silver tetras, the Justice Department said.

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Joel Rakower, and his corporation, Transship Discounts Ltd., plead guilty to mislabeling imported piranhas, according to the Department of Justice.

Shaun Wilkinson

After purchasing the fish from a Hong Kong supplier, Rakower imported them to Queens, N.Y., according to a release from the Justice Department.

In March of 2011, just after New York City prohibited possession of piranhas, Rakower had the supplier falsely label the fish.


"Over the course of 2011 and 2012, Transship submitted packing lists to the Fish and Wildlife Service containing false identifications of 39,548 piranhas, worth approximately $37,376, which Transship then sold to fish retailers in several states," the Justice Department said.

The piranhas were deliberately mislabeled as silver tetras, a harmless and benign fish. Piranhas are extremely aggressive and territorial.


Rakower has agreed to a pay $3,000 fine while Transship is serving a two-year probation and paying two separate $35,000 dollar fines.

“Rakower flouted federal laws meant to protect people and the environment from the illegal trade in wildlife species,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Dreher. “Mislabeling imported wildlife presents dangers to the public and the environment and we will continue to prosecute these cases.”

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