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Palacios fish farm owner found guilty of killing brown pelicans

Aug. 12, 2011 at 3:12 a.m.

U.S. Fish and Game agents found the carcasses of  90 brown pelicans while searching a Palacios fish farm in February.

A Palacios fish farm owner faces up to six months in prison after he was found guilty of killing federally protected brown pelicans.

A federal jury found Seaside Aquaculture, a fish farm in Palacios, and its owner, Khanh Vu, guilty of illegally killing about 90 brown pelicans, which are protected under federal law, according to a U.S. Attorney's Office news release.

Phone messages left for Vu were not returned Friday afternoon.

Vu's Corpus Christi-based attorney, Christopher Andrew Lowrance, declined comment.

Vu and Seaside Aquaculture were indicted in April, charged with one count of killing migratory non-game birds, which equates to about 90 brown pelicans.

The killings violated the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which provides protection for migratory birds and unless permitted by regulations, prohibits the killing of any migratory bird or the nests or eggs of any such bird.

The brown pelican is a non-game migratory bird, according to a U.S. Attorney's Office press release.

In October, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife received a letter from a former contract worker of Seaside Aquaculture alleging that while employed at the fish farm he saw several employees, including Vu, illegally killing many species of birds, according to testimony.

Two months later, a Fish and Wildlife Department agent inspected the area around the fish farm and found and photographed several empty shot gun hulls and bird carcasses.

In February, with the assistance of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game wardens, agents executed a warrant to search the fish farm.

The agents found the carcasses of about 90 brown pelicans, 17 great blue herons, five great egrets, four black-crowned night herons, four turkey vultures, two osprey, two gulls and one scaup.

Seaside's employees denied shooting any birds, but owner Vu did admitted to shooting six pelicans to prevent them from eating his fish, according to the news release.

At trial, the defense maintained the birds died after running into power lines, according to the news release.

Vu faces a fine of not more than $15,000 or a maximum six-month prison term or both.

His company faces a similar fine.

Vu and his company's sentencing hearing is set for Nov. 7. He will remain free on bond pending the sentencing hearing.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Hugo R. Martinez.

U.S. District Judge John D. Rainey presided over the trial.

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