Leaders of black market eel ring in Virginia and Maine given prison sentences

Published on
November 15, 2017

Eighteen harvesters of baby eels who made more than USD 4 million (EUR 3.4 million) on the black market have pleaded guilty to poaching in South Carolina, Virginia, and Maine. 

The eels, also known as “glass eels” or “elvers,” were sold to buyers in several countries in Asia.

Most of the poachers in the black market ring did not receive prison time, according to a Bangor Daily News article. But two of the scheme’s leaders were recently given prison sentences.

Tommy Zhou, operator of Wilson Group Sea Trading LLC in New York City, was sentenced to more than a year in prison for illegally trafficking more than USD 150,000 (EUR 128,562) worth of the baby eels.

Zhou told undercover officers he was willing to spend USD 200,000 (EUR 171,416) to kill anyone who took part in the black market eel scheme if they betrayed him, The Virginian-Pilot reported.

Richard D. Austin, a licensed clam digger in Waldoboro, Maine, received a sentence of two years in prison for illegally harvesting around USD 190,000 (EUR 162,846) worth of elvers and selling them to dealers in Illinois and New York.

While Austin said he doesn’t think it is fair that others who have been sentenced in the scheme have not received prison time, “I deserve to be punished for it,” he told the Bangor Daily News.

In related news, Maine is adding at least seven new elver licenses to the lucrative fishery for the 2018 season. The Maine Department of Marine Resources will use a lottery system, open to those who have not had their right to obtain an elver license suspended. The winners could earn as much as USD 6,000 (EUR 5,087) each from the four-pound quota of elvers.

“Maine’s elver fishery is by far the [state’s] most valuable on a per-pound basis,” Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher said. “We’re pleased to be able to provide new opportunity for commercial fishing in Maine, or perhaps a chance for an existing fisherman to diversify into another fishery.” 

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