Group with Indian Nation ties arrested for poaching baby eels

Eight men — including a former Shinnecock Indian Nation Trustee — turned themselves in to New York State police in Riverside last week after officials with the state Department Environmental Conservation said they were caught illegally harvesting elvers, baby eels often sold to buyers in Asia.

According a DEC spokesman, the men were originally caught and apprehended by environmental conservation officers after dark on March 28 in a creek along Southampton Town’s southern shore.

The men were given appearance tickets at the time, and turned themselves into state police on April 8. The news was first reported by the Bangor Daily News.

According to DEC spokesman Bill Fonda, “further investigation resulted in the filing of felony charges on April which made it necessary for further arrest processing procedures on April 8.”

Elvers are caught legally in the state of Maine during a short season, which started April 6 this year. South Carolina is the only other state with an elver fishery. In recent years, the price per pound of the baby eels has skyrocketed, due in part to a devastating tsunami, which reportedly left a shortage of elvers in Japan.

An Economist article from 2012 notes: “This triggered a sort of gold rush [in Maine], sending hundreds of people with nets into streams where the so-called glass eels typically migrate at night from the Atlantic Ocean to freshwater lakes and ponds.”

Prices for elvers have hit as high as $2,000 per pound in recent years, but have dropped to about $400-$600 per pound this year, according to the Bangor Daily News. Poaching has been rampant, and while the state issues elver permits of its own, Maine’s Passamaquoddy Indian Tribe has argued that not enough permits have been given to Native Americans.

Three of the eight men caught poaching the fish hail from Maine. According to a Bangor Daily News article, one of them — Frederick J. Moore OIII — is a former Passamaquoddy Tribe representative, and “has been highly critical” of Maine’s tribal regulation over elvers.

Local fishermen said they were surprised to hear of elver poaching in East End waters.

“Here?” said Nate Andruski, president of the Southold Baymen’s Association. “I know they give out a handful of permits in Maine … This is the first I’ve heard of it ever being tried on Long Island.”

“I don’t know if it’s legal or not,” said Ed Densieski, a fisherman from Riverhead.

Both surmised that the head of the Peconic River would have been a logical place for the men to poach the elvers. According to Bill Trotter, writer with the Bangor Daily News who covers the commercial fishing industry, elvers make their way upstream from coastal areas into fresh waters, where they attempt to live their adult lives.

Mr. Trotter said he had spoken to Chief Harry Wallace of the Unkechaug Nation, which occupies the Poospatuck Indian Reservation. Mr. Trotter wrote that the Unkechaug chief told him that Passamaquoddy tribe is advising the Unkechaugs on an eel fishery management plan.

All of the men arrested are due in First District Court in Central Islip on June 25.

The following men were arrested:

  • Wallace C Wilson Jr., 34, Mastic, NY
  • Michael D Cardoze, 43, Brooklyn, NY
  • Gordell, S Wright, 41, Southampton, NY
  • Daniel Patrick White, 52, Akwesane, NY
  • Frederick J Moore III, 53, Perry, ME
  • Kyle S Lewey, 21, Perry, ME
  • Frederick J Moore 4th, 21, Perry, ME
  • Ginew L Benton, 33, Hope Valley, RI

They were all charged with the identical crimes:

  • No foodfish permit; felony
  • Possession of over the limit American Eels; felony
  • Possession of undersized American Eels; felony
  • Conspiracy to commit a crime, penal law misdemeanor;
  • Using an eel trap with mesh under 1″ x 1/2″, a violation under the ECL.