Members of the infamous Yakuza syndicate are reportedly branching out to non-traditional criminal pursuits.
While there are still those who engage in the usual gangster stuff- drug-dealing, gambling, and prostitution, the recent government crackdown on organized crime groups has forced many to shift into other means to earn some easy money.
According to SoraNews24, some have resorted to poaching sea cucumbers, marine animals with a leathery skin and an elongated body found on the seafloor.
The Japanese Coast Guard first uncovered the operation after encountering a suspicious ship which allegedly belongs to the Yakuza. The vessel initially appeared to be fishing, but whenever they approached the boat for questioning, they quickly speed away.
The gangsters who poach sea cucumbers reportedly use speed boats that are faster than those of the authorities. In the rare occasion that authorities do catch up on them, the Yakuza dumps the evidence back in the ocean.
According to SoraNews24, a Yamaguchi-gumi boss was charged with possession of 60 tons of sea cucumbers and fined 100 million yen ($912,000) in 2017. Recently, five Yamaguchi-gumi members were arrested in possession of 450 kg (1,000 lbs) of sea cucumbers.
While the national government has since begun taking measures to strictly enforce the trade restriction of the creatures, the current penalty for poaching sea cucumbers remains toothless with just a six-month prison sentence and a fine of 10,000 yen ($91), which is hardly intimidating to Yakuza members.
Speaking with Shukan Bunshun, a source close to organized crime revealed that the sea cucumbers are a major source of revenue for the Yakuza, which is comparable to their amphetamine trafficking.
Sea cucumbers are reportedly a 20 billion yen ($182 million) marine export, which puts the creatures just behind pearls and scallops. The huge demand in China alone has caused the price of the echinoderms to reach tens of thousands of yen per kilogram (hundreds of dollars per pound) when dried.
Currently unregulated, the current trade benefits from being not required to be verified by a regional fishing industry association.