The owner of a seafood company formerly associated with South Surrey is facing up to a year in prison after pleading guilty last week to illegally importing fish into the U.S. five years ago.
According to a news release issued Oct. 18 by the U.S. Department of Justice, John Heras of Richmond-based Seven Seas Fish Company pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Seattle to “importation of previously refused food.”
“The company and Heras admit that between October 2014 and August 2015, they imported more than 9,000 pounds of potentially adulterated fish into the U.S. The fish had previously been refused entry into the U.S., because the FDA judged samples of the fish too decomposed and putrid,” the news release states.
A statement posted to the company’s website Monday acknowledges the court proceedings and guilty plea. The charges were “vigorously defended” prior to the guilty plea, the statement notes.
“Importantly, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did not find any health impacts linked to the shipments in question.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, records filed in the case show Seven Seas purchased 12,100 pounds of frozen corvina – a white fish similar to sea bass – for $36,375 from a seafood company in Mexico, and attempted to import the fish at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry.
“However, when Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Consumer Safety Officers examined the fish, they determined that one third of the samples from the shipment were more than 20 percent spoiled. The shipment was refused entry to the U.S. However, Seven Seas arranged for the fish to be lawfully shipped through the U.S. to its plant in Richmond, BC, claiming that the product would be distributed in Canada.”
After the fish arrived in B.C., 78-year-old Heras – a Delta resident – cooked and ate some of it and claimed he found nothing wrong with it, the statement adds.
“Despite his knowledge that the fish had been refused entry to the U.S., Heras encouraged others within Seven Seas to sell the fish to customers in Washington State and elsewhere.”
Seven Seas’ statement notes the company “takes our reputation, the quality of our products and the safety of our customers very seriously.”
“While the company has acknowledged our role in this matter and understands how our approach and communications with authorities should have been handled more proactively, we would not put customer health and safety at risk,” it states.
“Based on learning from this event, Seven Seas implemented rigorous company-wide training and improved processes to reinforce the team’s understanding of US Customs and FDA procedures.”
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, importation of previously refused food is punishable by up to a year in prison. Prosecutors in the Seven Seas case have agreed to recommend a probationary sentence for Heras. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Feb. 7.