Elvers ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Operation Broken Glass nets two more sentences



ELLSWORTH — Federal prosecutors announced that two men were sentenced Dec. 14 for their roles in illegally trafficking in juvenile “glass eels,” also known as “elvers,” in violation of the Lacey Act, following a hearing in the U.S. District Court in Portland.

Yarann Im of Portland, 35, was sentenced to six months imprisonment and three years of supervised release. Thomas Choi, 75, of Henderson, Md., was sentenced to six months in prison with a fine of $25,000.

The sentences were announced by Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

In October 2016, Im pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act by purchasing elvers in interstate commerce that had been harvested illegally in Virginia, North Carolina and Massachusetts. Court documents indicate that Im trafficked at least 480 pounds of elvers, almost 1 million baby eels, worth more than $500,000. Im subsequently sold those elvers to international buyers and exported them from the United States.

The sentencing followed entry of a guilty plea two days earlier by Albert Cray, 40, of West Bath in federal district court in Portland to trafficking elvers in violation of the Lacey Act. As part of his guilty plea, Cray admitted to illegally transporting or selling elvers in interstate commerce that had been harvested illegally in New Jersey.

According to the statement of facts filed with the plea agreement, Cray held a Florida license to fish for adult eels. He traveled to several locations in New Jersey to illegally harvest elvers then sold them to a dealer from Maryland, who exported them from the United States to buyers in Asia. In 2013, Cray trafficked approximately $253,518 worth of illegally harvested elvers.

Because of the threat of overfishing, states along the East Coast have banned elver harvesting in all but two states: Maine and South Carolina. Both states strictly regulate their elver fisheries, requiring that harvesters and dealers be licensed and report all quantities of harvested eels to state authorities. Other Atlantic Coast states, including Virginia, have commercial fisheries for adult or “yellow” eels.

This case arose out of Operation Broken Glass, a multijurisdiction U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigation into the illegal trafficking of American eels. In Maine, the Department of Marine Resources and Department of Fish and Wildlife participated in the investigation.

To date, the investigation has resulted in guilty pleas for 19 harvesters and dealers who illegally trafficked more than $5.25 million worth of elvers.

Several more defendants who have entered guilty pleas before the federal district court are expected to be sentenced shortly after the new year begins.

Operation Broken Glass was conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 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.

 

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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