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US, Canada allege illegal narwhal tusk smuggling

Brielle MorganNunatsiaq News

Two Canadians and two Americans have been charged in connection with allegations that they engaged in a cross-border narwhal tusk smuggling ring.

An indictment recently released by U.S. federal prosecutors describes the operation. Allegedly, the tusks, most of which come from narwhals hunted in Nunavut, were bought legally from sources in northern Canada. Arrangements to resell them illegally in the U.S. were made via the Internet.

With buyers secured, the tusks were smuggled across the border from St. Stephen, New Brunswick to Calais, Maine in “a utility trailer modified with a false bottom.” Finally, they were shipped via FedEx to various American buyers.

Gregory and Nina Logan of Grand Prairie, Alberta, were charged Dec. 14, 2011 with violating the cumbersomely entitled Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act.

Exactly one year later, Andrew Zarauskas of New Jersey was arrested in connection with an illegal narwhal tusk importation and money laundering operation.

Jay Conrad of Tennessee has been charged with similar offences.

A hard link between the Logans, Zarauskas and Conrad has yet to be established through the trial process. However, the U.S. court documents identify “Gregory R. Logan” as the Canadian recipient of payments for narwhal tusks from U.S. buyers.

Narwhals are legally harvested in Canada and Greenland and fetch thousands of dollars each. The narwhal population of areas around Somerset Island, Admiralty Inlet, Eclipse Sound and east Baffin Island is estimated at around 90,000.

Under a complex new harvesting plan, DFO proposes a total allowable catch, divided among six management regions, of 1,180 narwhal per year.

According to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, hundreds of these horns are traded annually. Because narwhals are considered threatened and are listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Fauna (CITES), the trade is tightly regulated.

With the right permits, narwhal tusks may be bought and sold legally within Canada and exported to some other countries.

But the United States prohibits the import of narwhal tusks — unless they’re more than 100 years old, and even then a permit is required.

The Logans’ case is being tried in New Brunswick. Court proceedings have been repeatedly stalled since their arrest over a year ago, but their next court appearance is slated for April 2.

The 28 separate counts against the couple span six years, from Sept. 1, 2003 to Aug. 24, 2009. Paul Adams, the Crown prosecutor for the case, says the Logans could face a maximum of five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $150,000.

On the American side, charges will be heard for both Zarauskas and Conrad on Jan. 11. The men face up to 20 years in prison on multiple charges and up to $250,000 in fines, said a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Brielle Morgan writes for the Nunatsiaq News, where this story first appeared.