Man pleads guilty to harvesting, selling American eels from Virginia

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An American eel. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
An American eel. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

NORFOLK — A New York man could spend up to five years in prison for selling more than $150,000 in “glass eels” illegally harvested in Virginia.

Tommy Water Zhou, 42, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to buying and selling the juvenile American eels. He is scheduled to be sentenced on July 12, with a maximum penalty being five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to the Department of Justice.

Zhou sold the eels through a seafood distribution company called Wilson Group Sea Trading LLC, which he established in 2015. The company sold food in New York and international markets.

Three years later, Zhou got a Maine elver dealer license, which let him buy and resell young eels that were harvested in the state. He used that license to illegally harvest and sell Virginia eels, according to the DOJ.

Zhou’s actions violate the Lacey Act, which bans the illegal trafficking of animals and plants in the United States. The only states that are allowed to harvest eels are Maine and South Carolina.

“Illegal harvesting and trafficking of wildlife represents a dire threat to our critical ecosystems,” U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Dana J. Boente wrote in a news release.

Zhou’s guilty plea is one of 11 that came as a result of “Operation Broken Glass,” a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigation into the illegal trafficking of American eels. The 11 people were involved in an eel trafficking ring that was worth more than $2.75 million.

Eels are considered a delicacy in some Asian cultures. People who harvest and sell American eels, which spawn in the Sargasso Sea, can sell the animals for more than $2,000 per pound, according to the DOJ.

Mayfield can be reached at adrienne.m@southsidedaily.com.

 

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Adrienne Mayfield is an award-winning, multi-media journalist hailing from Clermont, Fla. She moved to Lynchburg, Va. on a whim when she was 19, and worked her way to Hampton Roads in 2013. Adrienne is passionate about telling people stories via covering public safety and the judicial system. She isn’t afraid to take a heads-on approach to covering crime, including knocking on doors to get the details police aren’t sharing. Adrienne is a 2014 Old Dominion University graduate who still lives within walking distance of the college. You may see her cruising around Downtown Norfolk on her bike, enjoying a sandwich from Grilled Cheese Bistro or playing fetch with her dog, Greta, at the Colonial Place dog park.