Seafood dealer pleads guilty to illegally trafficking over $150K worth of eels

Posted at 3:41 PM, Apr 08, 2017

A student from Mount Saint Mary’s College holds a glass eel that was caught in the Quassaick Creek May 1, 2013 in Newburgh, New York as part of a project by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and and Cornell’s Water Resource Institute to monitor eel populations. (Photo credit: STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

NORFOLK, Va. – A New York City man pleaded guilty Wednesday to illegally harvesting and trafficking more than $150,000 worth of young American eels, aka “elvers” or “glass eels,” in violation with the Lacey Act.

“Illegal harvesting and trafficking of wildlife represents a dire threat to our critical ecosystems,” said Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.  “This investigation into illegal elver trafficking and resulting guilty plea reaffirms our commitment to protecting Virginia’s natural resources for future generations.”

According to a plea agreement, Tommy Water Zhou, admitted to illegally selling or purchasing the eels harvested illegally in Virginia.

In 2010, Zhou, 42, established a seafood distribution company known as Wilson Group Sea Trading LLC. The company’s main place of business was in Brooklyn, New York and its operations included importing seafood for domestic consumption and exporting seafood to international markets.

In 2013, Zhou obtained a Maine elver dealer license, allowing him to buy and resell elvers harvested in Maine. After using his Maine dealer license to cover his illegal activity, Zhou began exporting elvers that were actually harvested from Virginia waterways, in violation with Virginia law.

The plea was a result of “Operation Broken Glass,” an investigation into the illegal trafficking of American eels.

Eels are highly valued in east Asia for human consumption. Harvesters and exporters of American eels in the United States can sell elvers to east Asia for more than $2,000 per pound.

Zhou will be sentenced on July 12 and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.