Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Sea turtle poacher sentenced in felony case using NOAA forensic analysis

February 2014 Contributed by Vicky Krikelas

On February 18, 2014, a Puerto Rico man was sentenced to 15 days in jail, 150 hours of community service, and three years of supervised release for illegal sale of sea turtle parts, a felony violation of the Lacey Act.

The FBI and NOAA Office of Law Enforcement snared the poacher during a joint undercover investigation conducted in 2009-2010, and sent samples of meat and photos of carapaces to Kathy Moore, then with NOAA's Marine Forensics Laboratory in Charleston, South Carolina, for species identification. Kathy and her colleagues are now part of NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center as part of an organizational merger.

Kathy’s morphological analysis confirmed that the carapaces were hawksbill turtle, and her DNA analysis revealed that the meat was from at least two hawksbills and one green turtle. Green sea turtles are particularly prized for their meat and fat, and hawksbills for the "tortoiseshell" they produce.

All species of sea turtles are threatened by poaching, habitat destruction, marine debris, pollution, climate change and by-catch, and are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Successful prosecution punishes current poachers, deters future violators, and helps ensure sea turtles can continue to fulfill their roles in the ecosystem for generations to come.

The Marine Forensics Laboratory was housed by the NOAA National Ocean Service's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science when the analyses were conducted, but has recently been administratively transitioned to NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center to centralize NOAA's forensic services under one roof.

The case was prosecuted by attorneys from the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division and Assistant U.S. Attorneys from the District of Puerto Rico.

For more information about the case, see this feature story or contact

For more information about NWFSC’s Forensics Unit, visit our webpage here.

Kathy Moore inspects sea turtle eggs at NOAA's Marine Forensic Laboratory in Charleston, South Carolina. Kathy Moore inspects sea turtle eggs at NOAA's Marine Forensic Laboratory in Charleston, South Carolina.