An Anchorage man convicted of illegally snaring as many as 20 black bears was sentenced Tuesday in federal court to a year and a day in prison.
Kwan Su Yi, 33, was not fined but was ordered to forfeit the $25,000 boat used in the poaching, a 22-foot Hewescraft.
Prosecutors said Yi and two others snared black bears, removed their gall bladders and plotted to sell them in Korea, where they are used in traditional Asian medicine. They also removed other parts, including legs.
"Conduct such as this, in which bears are killed very inhumanely and then largely wasted so that a single part can be sold for profit, is illegal and will be prosecuted vigorously," said the U.S. attorney for Alaska, Tim Burgess.
Yi was convicted of killing bears in Prince William Sound with two other men, Tae Won Ro, 34, and James Ho Moon, 27.
Prosecution of the case began in 2002 after biologists conducting stream surveys happened to land their Piper Super Cub next to the suspects' new 22-foot aluminum boat, which had been launched from Whittier.
Prosecutors said Yi, Ro and Moon used eighth-inch steel aircraft cable to make snares to catch bears on Evans, Bainbridge and Chenega islands.
The snares were designed to catch a black bear around the neck, tighten as the bear struggled and eventually strangle it.
Acting on the tip from the biologists, state and federal law officers caught Yi, Ro and Moon with a cooler full of gall bladders and bear legs.
The men were found with 11 black bear legs, at least four gall bladders and one head on Sept. 15, 2002. Five days later, authorities seized three more gall bladders and three legs at Yi's home and a leg at Ro's home.
They were accused of holding the gall bladders for shipment and sale in Korea.
Investigators used the boat's onboard global positioning system device for clues. They backtracked to points programmed into the device and found dead bears in various stages of decay.
The men were indicted last year and charged with conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act. The federal law prohibits trade in wildlife, fish and plants that have been illegally taken.
Yi pleaded guilty last year. Moon and Ro, both of Anchorage, also pleaded guilty to the Lacey Act charges last year and were sentenced to fines and probation.
U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick determined that Yi would not be able to pay a fine but ordered the boat forfeited.
A spokeswoman for TRAFFIC, a wildlife monitoring program of the World Wildlife Fund, said the continued use of bear gall bladders combined with dwindling numbers of bears due to poaching has created a lucrative market for the organs.
"Our research indicates that a whole bear gall bladder can command the price of $10,000 in Korea," said program officer Leigh Henry. "This demand has led to a sharp decline in Asian bear populations, and there is concern that the demand will now shift to more plentiful bear populations, such as the American black bear."
Bear gall bladders have been used for hundreds of years in traditional Asian medicine to fight fever, reduce pain and detoxify the body, Henry said. Gall bladders from wild bears are especially prized, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.