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4 charged with smuggling banned imported catfish

Defendants could face up to 25 years in prison on charges of catfish smuggling and catfish smuggling conspiracy.

The Department of Justice in New York on Thursday charged four men in the alleged smuggling of banned catfish into the United States.

Those charged were Mahmud Chowdhury, Shakil Ahmed, Belayet Hussain and Firoz Ahammad.

According to the court complaint, the four worked with Asia Foods Distributor Inc. to smuggle large quantities of the banned catfish into New York City.

Asia Foods Distributor Inc. has been based in New York since 2014 and listed as a domestic business corporation with Mahmud Chowdhury listed as the chief executive officer.

The importation of Siluriformes, a biological grouping that includes catfish, into the United States has been prohibited since 2017. Industry practices in the countries of origin can lead to questions of whether the fish meets U.S. health and safety guidelines. Imported catfish is less expensive than U.S.-raised varieties, which means it's cheaper to move through the food supply chain.

Image: Banned catfish from smuggling operation
Banned catfish found by Homeland Security New York and partners amid a smuggling operation.HSINewYork / via Twitter

The banned catfish was listed on records as different, legal species of fish and never included in any invoices.

In October 2019, a shipment heading to Asia Foods Distributor Inc. was found to include the banned fish.

After further investigations under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, with collaboration from U.S. Department of Homeland Security, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General more banned fish were discovered at the distributor’s warehouse and customers' stores.

The defendants face up to 25 years in prison on charges of catfish smuggling and catfish smuggling conspiracy.