A Maryland couple have been charged with attempting to illegally purchase bear gallbladders in a Pennsylvania sting operation, authorities said.
William E. Stromko and his wife, Hui Stromko, of Fallstonwere charged Dec. 6 with illegally buying wildlife parts, a violation of Pennsylvania Game and Wildlife code. Stromko was charged with four counts and faces potential fines of $4,400. His wife was charged with seven counts and could be fined up to $8,000.
Officials said bear gallbladders are prized on the Asian market for use in medicines and as an aphrodisiac. Bruce Whitman, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, said authorities are aggressively pursuing poachers and those who buy bear parts.
"Probably over the last decade, more than half the folks involved in these cases have been from out of state," Whitman said. "We have a viable black bear population here, and the direction in these investigations has always been on protecting the wildlife."
Natural resources officials said bear poaching and trading of parts has grown into a $2 billion industry. They said about 40,000 black bears are taken legally by hunters in the United States and Canada annually.
Whitman said Pennsylvania authorities are trying to avoid a repeat of cases in the Great Smoky Mountains several years ago in which bear carcasses were found -- without their gallbladders -- in trash bins.
John Surrick, a spokesman for Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said that while authorities are aware of bear poaching in the region, it has not been a problem in Maryland.
"There is a larger problem here with bear-car collisions, and we are currently investigating two cases of bears being shot, but none of their parts were removed," Surrick said. "It is currently not legal to hunt bears in Maryland."
Pub Date: 12/15/98