William Sheldon, Timothy Lewis, and Charles Good appeared today in federal court in Portland, Maine, where each pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act by trafficking juvenile American eels (also known as “elvers” or “glass eels”). Sheldon and Lewis had each been separately indicted by a Grand Jury in March 2017 for conspiring to smuggle elvers and violate the Lacey Act. Good pleaded guilty to an Information charging him with aiding and abetting the illegal transport of elvers in violation of the Lacey Act.
Historically, Japanese and European eels were harvested and sold as food in East Asia As overfishing has led to a decline in the population of these eels, harvesters have turned to the American eel to fill the void resulting from the decreased number of Japanese and European eels.
American elvers are exported to East Asia, where they are raised to adult size and sold for food. Harvesters and exporters of American eels 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. Both states heavily regulate elver fisheries, requiring that individuals be licensed and report all quantities of harvested eels to state authorities.
Today’s guilty pleas were the result of “Operation Broken Glass,” a multi-state U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) investigation into the illegal trafficking of American eels. To date, the investigation has resulted in 18 guilty pleas in Maine, Virginia, and South Carolina. Combined, these 18 defendants have admitted to illegally trafficking more than $4.5 million worth of elvers. The offenses in these case are felonies under the Lacey Act, each carrying a maximum penalty of five years’ incarceration, a fine of up to $250,000 or up to twice the gross pecuniary gain or loss, or both.
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.