TRENTON, N.J. — Three Midcoast Maine men were arrested Wednesday morning and charged with illegally harvesting more than 24,000 juvenile eels from a creek in southern New Jersey.
Robert L. Royce, 65, of Hope and Neal V. Kenney III, 53, of Thomaston were observed by conservation officers around 2:45 a.m. tending an illegally set net in the Absecon Creek in Absecon, N.J., according to a news release from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife.
Royce and Kenney were apprehended in possession of more than 3 pounds of glass eels, equaling approximately 8,000 individual eels.
Kenney was fined $232 in October 2011 in Rockland District Court in Maine for elver fishing without a license and fined $316 for elver fishing without a license in August 2005, according to Bangor Daily News stories.
Further investigation led the officers to a vehicle with a tank holding an additional 6 pounds of glass eels, equaling about 16,000 eels. Charged was the vehicle’s driver Dale B. Witham, 54, of Medomak, according to New Jersey DEP Division Director David Chanda.
Elvers can fetch up to $2,500 on the open market, according to the news release.
The nine pounds had a total value of $22,500.
The net was set to catch glass eels, also known as elvers, a juvenile form of the American eel. These eels are kept alive and raised for food popular in overseas cuisine.
American eel populations are stressed by a number of factors, including loss of habitat and overharvesting, according to the news release.
The men were each charged with criminal trespass for conducting the operation on property owned by the Atlantic City Municipal Utilities Authority; use of a fyke net without a license; use of an illegal fyke net; possession of approximately 24,250 eels measuring less than 6 inches in length; and possession of eels in excess of the daily possession limit. A fyke net is a cylindrical or cone-shaped net mounted on rings that is fixed to the bottom of waterways by anchors or stakes.
Royce, Kenney and Witham were arrested and processed with the assistance of Absecon Police Department, and remanded to the Atlantic County Correctional Facility. Royce posted $2,500 bail. Kenney and Witham were being held on $2,500 bail. Arraignment is scheduled for Monday in Absecon Municipal Court. Officers seized all equipment and vehicles associated with the operation.
The American eel, found in freshwater, estuarine and marine habitats from Greenland to South America, has been wiped out from portions of its historical freshwater habitat during the last century, mostly resulting from dams built through the 1960s, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Maine and South Carolina are the only two states that have a glass eel season.