NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York man who admitted smuggling nearly 4,000 live Chinese snakehead fish, which pose a danger to fish native to U.S. waters, was arrested on criminal charges, prosecutors said on Thursday.
The snakehead - a delicacy in Chinese and Korean cuisine - has been banned in New York since 2004 because it is considered a danger to local fish and wildlife. Snakeheads are air-breathing fish and can travel short distances over land to find a suitable habitat.
Yong Hao Wu, 43, the owner of the Brooklyn-based Howei Trading Inc., was accused of arranging a shipment of 353 live fish in tanks which arrived from Macau by air on February 13, falsely labeled as a legal species of fish, said the Queens District Attorney's Office.
After his arrest on Wednesday, Wu allegedly admitted that he had arranged for six previous snakehead shipments in January and February 2010, totaling 3,889 fish.
Wu was charged with felony commercialization of wildlife and importing fish dangerous to indigenous fish populations. He faces up to four years in prison if convicted.
"Although these particular live Snakehead fish were intended to be used as food, they often are purchased as pets and later released into New York's waterways where they damage or destroy our native fish species," New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens said in a statement.
The freshwater snakehead, which is native to China, Russia and Korea, has no natural predators in the United States and can out-compete native fish species for food and damage commercial fishing industries, the Queens District Attorney's office said.
"If invasive snakeheads escaped into New York's waterways, the impact on native fish species would be nothing short of devastating," said Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Salvatore Amato.
(Reporting by Bernd Debusmann Jr.; editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)