In this May 25, 2017 photo, baby eels swim in a bucket after being caught near Brewer, Maine. On Wednesday, a former Woolwich, Maine man was sentenced to serve 3 years probation and to pay $141,000 in restitution for his role in an illegal East Coast baby eel trafficking ring. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

A former Woolwich resident who now lives in Massachusetts was ordered Wednesday in federal court to serve three years probation and to pay $141,000 in restitution for his role in an East Coast baby eel trafficking ring.

Robert “Eddy” Bowdoin, 38, of Hyannis, Massachusetts, pleaded guilty last June to selling a total of approximately 183 pounds of poached baby eels, also known as elvers, in 2012. The elvers were sold in three separate transactions in South Carolina and Maine to an unspecified Maine elver dealer, according to federal court documents.

Bowdoin and Michael Squillace of Woolwich, a co-defendant and childhood friend, together were paid more than $374,000 for the illegally poached elvers.

The two men are among 19 men prosecuted by federal officials in Maine, South Carolina and Virginia for illegally catching, selling and transporting more than $5.25 million worth of elvers in nine East Coast states from 2011 through 2014, prosecutors have said.

During an appearance Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Portland, Judge Jon Levy also sentenced Bowdoin to pay a fine of $10,000, in addition to the probation and restitution.

Bowdoin, a single father to a teenage girl and an electrician by trade, and Squillace voluntarily provided $141,000 in cash of their wildlife trafficking proceeds to U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers soon after they were apprehended in April 2012, according to federal court documents.

Since 2012, Maine fishermen on average have earned roughly $1,500 per pound for elvers. In 2017, Maine’s approximately 1,000 licensed elver fishermen legitimately harvested $12 million worth of elvers.

Twelve of the 19 defendants have been sentenced so far. Sentences have ranged from two years of probation and no fine or restitution for some defendants to two years in federal prison or fines and restitution for others.

Fishing for elvers is illegal in all states except Maine, where it is permitted along the entire coast, and South Carolina, where the practice is permitted only in the Cooper River. States where the elvers were illegally caught and sold include Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina (outside the Cooper River) and Virginia.

The criminal trafficking ring was infiltrated and exposed through a federal undercover sting known as Operation Broken Glass, in reference to the nickname for elvers of “glass eels,” which migrate to shore from the Atlantic ocean each spring.

Before Maine adopted stricter management restrictions in 2014, many baby eels poached elsewhere were smuggled into the state, mixed in with the legal harvest, and then sold and shipped out of the country.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....