NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) –– One or two shells collected on a beach vacation? You’re probably okay.

More than 500 shells, coral pieces and other souvenirs? Don’t try it.

Two cruise ship passengers arriving at the Port of New Orleans recently were stopped by officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with more than 500 “prohibited aquatic items” in their baggage after a cruise through the Western Caribbean.

According to information provided by CBP Public Affairs Specialist Matthew Dyman, an unidentified husband and wife were pulled aside at the Port terminal for a secondary baggage inspection as they disembarked the ship on December 12. Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identified the prohibited items, which included five Queen conch shells among hundreds of shells, sea fans, sponges, urchins and pieces of coral.

The couple told CBP officials that they collected the items during the cruise to make “art projects.” But Fish and Wildlife officials said the couple violated federal law by “unlawfully importing a commercial shipment of wildlife.”

However, on the question of how many beach items are too many, Dyman says “there are no clear cut answers.”

“There are a lot of different factors, “Dyman told WGNO, “and ultimately it’s up to the CBP Officer or Fish and Wildlife Inspector’s discretion. If people are found with one or two, clearly dead shells picked up off the beach, they may be allowed to keep them, but it also depends on the species. Is it endangered? Is it common? Was it bought in a beach shop, was it picked up off the beach?”

Dyman referred WGNO to federal laws regarding the importing of fish and wildlife.

According to the Lacey Act, it is “unlawful to import, export, sell, acquire, or purchase fish, wildlife or plants taken, possessed, transported, or sold: 1) in violation of U.S. or Indian law, or 2) in interstate or foreign commerce involving any fish, wildlife, or plants taken possessed or sold in violation of State or foreign law.”

Misdemeanor violations of the Lacey Act carry a fine of up to $100,000 per individual– felony violations can result in a fine of up to $250,000 per individual.

Dyman told WGNO that because it was a “first offense,” the New Orleans couple was “let off with a warning by U.S. Fish and Wildlife, though they will not be getting back their aquatic items.”

“However, if a similar situation were to again occur, after they had previously been warned,” said Dyman, “they could certainly be facing fines.”