|A New York food fish dealer pleaded guilty to an illegal commercialization of protected wildlife violation and one count of unlawful possession of undersized fish (American eels), New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Acting Commissioner Marc Gerstman announced today.
“DEC continues to ramp up enforcement on poachers in an effort to protect American eels, a nearly depleted fishery,” Acting Commissioner Gerstman said. “This case represents a significant win for New York’s environment and is part of an ongoing crackdown.”
Milton Sum, 36, of Brooklyn New York, entered his plea on September 29, 2015 and was ordered to forfeit a $60,000 claim on the value of the seized glass eels. He was also ordered to pay a fine of $10,000. Based on a tip from federal agents, DEC law enforcement staff seized the 37 kilogram shipment of live glass eels, valued at $60,000, at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The glass eels were destined for Asia to be sold for more than double that amount. Due to the swift actions of the late DEC Lieutenant John Fitzpatrick and DEC’s Marine Resources staff, DEC was able to return the seized glass eels to the waters of New York State.
It is unlawful to take or possess American eels less than nine inches long in New York without a permit. The eels known as “elvers” or “glass eels,” due to their translucent appearance and small size at the juvenile stage in their life cycle, are highly valued in Asia where they are cultured and reared to adult size for the food fish market. Market value for glass eels has been as high as $2,500 per kilo ($1,136 per pound) in recent years. Thus, increasing the illegal taking of glass eels. Due to the increasing price, the American eel fishery could face significant depletion. Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has considered a petition to list the American eel as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. This case was prosecuted with the assistance of the Queens District Attorney’s office.
In a separate case, earlier this year, Environmental Conservation Police with the assistance of the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, arrested two men in Brooklyn back in March for trafficking illegally harvested undersized American Eels. They pleaded guilty to misdemeanor level illegal commercialization of protected wildlife. Tommy Waters Zhou, 40, of Brooklyn, NY, entered his plea on July 10, 2015 and was ordered to forfeit $3,000 to DEC as restitution. Richard D. Austin, 37, of Waldeboro, ME, pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charges on June 2, 2015, and was ordered to forfeit $15,000 to DEC. At the time of their arrests in the spring, Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) agents apprehended several associated individuals in Virginia on similar charges.
“The arrests and subsequent conviction of these men concluded an extensive investigation involving cooperation, intelligence sharing and hard work among NYSDEC’s Bureau of Environmental Criminal Investigation (BECI), U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) agents, Maine, and the Virginia Marine Police Special investigative Unit,” Gerstman said.
To report an environmental crime contact New York State Environmental Conservation Police at its 24 hour Stop Polluters Hotline at 1-844-DEC-ECOS / 1-844-332-3267.
The NYSDEC DLE members involved in this investigation include Lt. John Fitzpatrick, Lt. Jesse Paluch, Lt. Liza Bobseine, Lt. John Murphy, Inv. Nick Desotelle, Inv. Sara Komonchak, Inv. Jeff Conway and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Special Agent in Charge Paul Chapelle and the office of the Brooklyn District Attorney’s.