NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

May 4, 2013

Manhunt for poachers in marsh

Baby eel poaching leads to dramatic chase, arrests

SEABROOK — One of the stranger fugitive hunts to occur in this region played out yesterday in the vast saltmarsh between Seabrook and Hampton Falls, as two Maine brothers attempted to illegally harvest a tiny, slimy fish that can command $1,800 per pound.

Known as “elvers,” they are juvenile American eels, not more than 6 inches long. At this time of year they migrate up rivers in large schools. Thin as spaghetti and translucent, they are a hot commodity in Japan, where they are raised in fish farms to full size and sold to consumers.

Police say the lure of that handsome price brought Matthew Kinney, 29, of Bremen, Maine, and his brother Justin, 35, of Mount Vernon, Maine, to the Hampton Falls River in an attempt to illegally catch elvers. According to Lt. Michael Eastman of New Hampshire Fish and Game, the two were spotted at around 5 a.m. by a routine Fish and Game patrol.

Both complied at first with officers, but then the situation changed. Justin fled but was quickly captured, said Eastman. Matthew put up a more intense struggle.

Eastman said Matthew assaulted an officer who was attempting to arrest him, then fell into the river and fled into the marsh, reportedly with a handcuff attached to one wrist. That started an intense search that drew in police from Seabrook, Hampton Falls and Kensington, N.H., as well as the State Police, whose helicopter could be seen hovering over the Hampton Falls salt marsh near Route 1.

“He made his way back across the salt marsh to the Hampton Falls Inn, where they had a room,” Eastman said. “Matthew was taken into custody at 9:15 a.m.”

Matthew Kinney faces three counts of assault and battery on police officer (felony), simple assault, resisting arrest, disobeying a conservation officer, and taking American Eels under six inches long. Bail was set at $5,000 cash.

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