Operation Broken Glass, an interagency sting of a national elver trafficking ring based in Maine, has yielded two more jail sentences and a guilty plea this week.

Yarann Im, a 35-year-old Portland seafood dealer, was sentenced to six months in jail for illegally trafficking 480 pounds of elvers, which are also known as glass eels or juvenile American eels, following a hearing Thursday in federal district court in Portland. Im pleaded guilty in 2016 to buying more than $500,000 worth of eels, or almost a million individual elvers that had been illegally harvested in Virginia, North Carolina and Massachusetts, and selling them abroad.

Thomas Choi, a 76-year-old seafood dealer from Maryland, was sentenced Thursday to six months in prison with a $25,000 fine for trafficking in $1.26 million of elvers.

On Tuesday, Maine fisherman Albert Cray pleaded guilty to trafficking elvers, admitting to harvesting them illegally in New Jersey and selling them to a Maryland dealer, who then exported them from the United States to buyers in Asia. In 2013, Cray admitted to trafficking more than $250,000 worth of illegally harvested elvers, according to a statement of facts filed with Cray’s plea agreement.

“The poaching and illegal selling of American eels negatively impacts not only the species, but also the economies of our East Coast states and the livelihood of local U.S. fishermen who legally harvest these eels,” said Edward Grace, acting chief of law enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “These recent court actions should serve as a warning to those who illegally profit from our country’s natural resources. You will be caught and held accountable.”

Eels are highly valued in East Asia for human consumption. Japanese and European eels were historically harvested to meet this demand, however overfishing has led to a decline in these populations and harvesters have turned to the American eel to fill the void. American eels spawn in the Sargasso Sea, an area of the North Atlantic Ocean bounded on all sides by ocean currents. They travel as larvae from the Sargasso to the East Coast of the U.S.

They enter a juvenile, or elver, stage when they reach the U.S. They swim up river and grow to adulthood in fresh water. Harvesters and exporters of American eels can sell elvers to East Asia for more than $2,000 a pound. Because of the threat of overfishing, Atlantic Coast states have cooperated to ban elver fishing in all but Maine and South Carolina, which heavily regulate their elver fisheries.

Led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Operation Broken Glass set up a sting operation into the illegal trafficking of elvers. It has resulted in guilty pleas for 19 people that are estimated to have illegally trafficked more than $5.25 million worth of elvers. Maine Marine Patrol was one of 20 law enforcement agencies that has helped work on the investigation.

Penelope Overton can be contacted at 791-6463 or at:

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