Hunting News

Friday, May 4, 2018

Maine Men Sentenced for Illegally Trafficking American Eels


Today, William Sheldon was sentenced in federal district court in Portland, Maine, to six months in prison followed by three years supervised release for trafficking juvenile American eels, also called “elvers” or “glass eels,” in violation of the Lacey Act, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Sheldon was also ordered to pay a fine of $10,000, forfeit $33,200 in lieu of a truck he used during the crime, and may not possess a license to purchase or export elvers as a special condition of his supervised release. Also sentenced today for elver trafficking offenses was Timothy Lewis, who received a sentence of six months in prison followed by three years supervised release, with the special condition that he too may not possess a license to purchase or export elvers. Lewis was also ordered to pay a $2500 fine. Thomas Reno was also sentenced today to one year probation.

In the factual statement accompanying his guilty plea in October 2017, Sheldon, a licensed Maine elver dealer, admitted to trafficking nearly $550,000 worth of illegal elvers, and to taking specific steps to evade law enforcement detection. Lewis admitted to trafficking nearly $500,000 worth of illegal elvers, and Reno admitted to trafficking over $100,000 worth of illegal elvers.

“Today’s sentences establish that the United States will not tolerate interstate and international transactions involving illegally taken wildlife,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Wood. “Despite their best efforts to evade law enforcement, these defendants were ultimately brought to justice, and we are very proud to have worked with our partners at the federal, state and local level to achieve this result.”  

“With today’s sentencings, the success of Operation Broken Glass continues,” said Acting Assistant Director Edward Grace for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement. “By working with our partners, we are actively working to dismantle an international wildlife trafficking scheme that not only harms American eels, but U.S. business owners and others who rely on healthy ecosystems for both ecological and economical purposes. Together, we will continue to protect native wildlife and our national resources for the continuing benefit of the American people." 

These sentences were the result of “Operation Broken Glass,” a multi-jurisdiction United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) investigation into the illegal trafficking of American eels.  To date, the investigation has resulted in guilty pleas for twenty-one individuals whose combined conduct resulted in the illegal trafficking of more than $5 million worth of elvers.

Eels are highly valued in east Asia for human consumption.  Historically, Japanese and European eels were harvested to meet this demand; however, overfishing has led to a decline in the population of these eels.  As a result, harvesters have turned to the American eel to fill the void resulting from the decreased number of Japanese and European eels.

American eels spawn in the Sargasso Sea, an area of the North Atlantic Ocean bounded on all sides by ocean currents.  They then travel as larvae from the Sargasso to the coastal waters of the eastern United States, where they enter a juvenile or elver stage, swim upriver, and grow to adulthood in fresh water.  Elvers are exported for aquaculture in east Asia, where they are raised to adult size and sold for food.  Harvesters and exporters of American eels in the United States can sell elvers to east Asia for more than $2000 per pound.

Because of the threat of overfishing, elver harvesting is prohibited in the United States in all but two states: Maine and South Carolina.  Maine and South Carolina heavily regulate elver fisheries, requiring that individuals be licensed and report all quantities of harvested eels to state authorities. Operation Broken Glass targeted illegal elver poaching in states without open fisheries, and the subsequent illegal transport and export of those elvers.

Operation Broken Glass was conducted by the USFWS and the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section in collaboration with the Maine Marine Patrol, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division, New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife Bureau of Law Enforcement, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Conservation Police, Virginia Marine Resources Commission Police, USFWS Refuge Law Enforcement, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement, Massachusetts Environmental Police, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Division of Law Enforcement, New York State Environmental Conservation Police, New Hampshire Fish and Game Division of Law Enforcement, Maryland Natural Resources Police, North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission Division of Law Enforcement, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Yarmouth, Massachusetts Division of Natural Resources, North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina Police Department, and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

The government is represented by Environmental Crimes Section Trial Attorneys Cassandra Barnum and Shane Waller.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Two Men Indicted for Illegally Trafficking American Eels



Joseph Kelley and James Lewis were each indicted in Newark, New Jersey, with crimes related to illegally trafficking juvenile American eels, also known as “elvers” or “glass eels.”  A seven-count indictment was returned on Jan. 18, 2018, charging Kelley and Lewis with conspiracy to smuggle elvers and violate the Lacey Act.

The Indictment alleges that Kelley and Lewis knowingly harvested elvers illegally in the states of New Jersey and Massachusetts, and sold those elvers to dealers or exporters. Among those dealers is Thomas Choi, who pleaded guilty to related crimes in the District of Maine in 2016, and who was subsequently sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for those offenses.

The indictments were announced today by Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and Acting Director Greg Sheehan of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Eels are highly valued in east Asia for human consumption.  Historically, Japanese and European eels were harvested to meet this demand. However, overfishing has led to a decline in the population of these eels.  As a result, harvesters have turned to the American eel to fill the void resulting from the decreased number of Japanese and European eels.  Because of the threat of overfishing, elver harvesting is prohibited in the United States in all but two states: Maine and South Carolina.  Maine and South Carolina heavily regulate elver fisheries, requiring that individuals be licensed and report all quantities of harvested eels to state authorities. 

These indictments were the result of “Operation Broken Glass,” a multi-jurisdiction, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) investigation into the illegal trafficking of American eels.  To date, the investigation has resulted in two other indictments, as well as guilty pleas for nineteen other individuals in Maine, Virginia, and South Carolina.  These defendants combined have admitted to illegally trafficking more than $4.5 million worth of elvers.

Operation Broken Glass was conducted by USFWS and the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section in collaboration with the Maine Marine Patrol, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division, New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife Bureau of Law Enforcement, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Conservation Police, Virginia Marine Resources Commission Police, USFWS Refuge Law Enforcement, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement, Massachusetts Environmental Police, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Division of Law Enforcement, New York State Environmental Conservation Police, New Hampshire Fish and Game Division of Law Enforcement, Maryland Natural Resources Police, North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission Division of Law Enforcement, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Yarmouth, Massachusetts Division of Natural Resources, North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina Police Department and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

The government is represented by Environmental Crimes Section Trial Attorneys Cassandra Barnum and Shane Waller.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Two Texas Fishermen Sentenced for False Statements to Law Enforcement Agents



Jamal Marshall was sentenced to six months imprisonment and six months home confinement today following a hearing in federal district court in Houston, Texas, for making false statements to law enforcement agents regarding the illegal harvest of snapper in the Gulf of Mexico.  A second fisherman, Jacob Brown, was previously sentenced on November 29, 2017, to 2 months imprisonment and 4 months home confinement.  The sentences were announced by Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Office for Law Enforcement.

In August 2017, Marshall and Brown pleaded guilty to making false statements to agents with the Coast Guard Investigative Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – Office of Law Enforcement.  According to court documents filed at the time of the plea, the two illegally harvested more than 1,900 pounds of fish, including 642 snapper, weighing approximately 1,846 pounds.  The two subsequently lied to law enforcement agents regarding the possession of these fish in order to hide their illegal harvest from Texas waters.

“This case highlights the superb partnership between Texas Parks and Wildlife, NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement, and the Coast Guard here in southeast Texas,” said Capt. Kevin Oditt, Commander of the Coast Guard Sector Houston/Galveston. “As a team, we work together to enforce laws that ensure the sustainability of our fisheries. In protecting our living marine resources, we also protect the livelihoods of commercial fishermen and the ability of recreational anglers to enjoy the sport for generations to come.”

“I am extremely proud of the combined effort by the USCG, NOAA, and Texas Game Wardens who work tirelessly day and night to protect of our natural resources in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Col. Grahame Jones of the Texas Parks and Wildlife's Law Enforcement Division.

Reef fish, such as red snapper and vermilion snapper, provide significant economic benefits to the state of Texas from both commercial and recreational fishing.  Red snapper, the most popular reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico, are a top predator in the Gulf ecosystem, prized among recreational fishermen, and a valued offering at restaurants.  Unsustainable catch rates have led to declines in the populations of these two fish. At their lowest point, vermilion snapper stocks were estimated to be at 20 percent of their historical abundance, and red snapper stocks were estimated to be at only three percent.

The case was investigated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – Office of Law Enforcement, the Coast Guard Investigative Service, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.