NEW YORK (AP) — A New York court has concluded three men owe $54.9 million in restitution to the South African government for stealing lobsters off its coast.

A U.S. magistrate judge in Manhattan on Thursday made the finding, which must be approved by a district court judge.

The recommendation came in a case brought in 2003 by the U.S. government against three men accused of taking lobsters from South African waters between 1987 and 2001. Although judges initially ruled no money was owed, a federal appeals court in Manhattan said the South African government has a property right in illegally harvested rock lobsters. The lobsters were imported into the United States.

The Pew Environment Group applauds the award. Lawyers for the defendants haven't responded to messages left Monday seeking comment.