Wildlife inspectors at a port in Miami discovered an unusual shipment on Monday: 1,400 pounds of dried shark fins. Officials estimate the commercial value of the contraband to be between $700,000 and $1 million.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the shipment of dried fins were found in 18 boxes at the Miami Port of Entry on January 24. Officials believe the shipment originated in South America and was likely headed to Asia, where shark fins are sought after for use in soup and traditional medicine.
Customs and Border Protection officials assisted with the bust. Officials told CBS News the shipment was falsely declared.
The shipment violated the Lacey Act, which prohibits illegal wildlife trade, and included species protected from exploitation by CITES, The Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna.
Authorities have not announced any criminal charges. The investigation is ongoing.
"It is very big money stuff. It is very harmful to the ecology," charter captain Bouncer Smith told CBS Miami. "This is one of the most heinous crimes in nature that we have seen."
Conservationists say nearly 100 million sharks are killed for their fins every year. Smugglers cut the fins from live animals before throwing them back into the water to suffocate or bleed to death.
"Whether it is rhino horns, elephant tusks, shark fin soup, they seem to be if you convince 'em it's hard to get, they want it all that much more," Smith said.
According to Oceana, shark finning is illegal in U.S. waters, but buying and selling the fins is not, leading to massive declines in shark populations around the world. The organization is urging Congress to pass the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act to ban the practice nationwide.