NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

May 4, 2013

Manhunt for poachers in marsh

Baby eel poaching leads to dramatic chase, arrests

(Continued)

Justin Kinney faces charges of disobeying a conservation officer, hindering apprehension, providing false information to law enforcement and taking American Eels under six inches long. Bail was set at $2,500 cash. Both brothers will be arraigned on the charges Monday in Seabrook.

For over 20 years, law enforcement agencies all along the eastern seaboard have tried to rein in elver poaching. But poaching has spread widely in recent years as the price has skyrocketed.

A decade ago, elvers brought about $25 per pound. These days, fishermen could get $1,800 or more for a pound for live elvers — it takes between 3,000 and 4,000 tiny elvers to make up a pound.

A main reason for the price surge was the near destruction of the Japanese elver population due to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and a crackdown on eel harvesting in Europe. The world’s appetite for eels — a fish that generally is not eaten by Americans — has turned its attention to the East Coast.

“It’s the price that’s made it such a problem,” Eastman said. “From what I’ve heard it can range from $2,000 to $3,000 a pound. These eels are sold to the Asian market, where they are grown for food. We’ve made multiple arrests this year along the seacoast.”

Eastman said he didn’t know how many pounds of eels the brothers had taken, but they had a lot of them when captured — 2 buckets full.

Rules on elver fishing vary from state to state. They can only be legally harvested in Maine and South Carolina, with a permit.

Even with the licensing system in place, poaching in Maine has become front page news. Last month authorities arrested a New Hampshire man who had 41 pounds of illegally-caught elvers, with a street value that exceeded $80,000.

Eels have an unusual, and somewhat mysterious, life cycle.

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