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.
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