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Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

NJ bust: Illegal taking of glass eels, over 24,000

Below is a release about a serious bust over the illegal taking of glass eels. Over 24,000 eels in-hand, it's unknown how many more trips these poachers had made before getting caught. 

Take note since our nape of the woods is a prime target for poachers feasting, fiscally speaking, on these now highly threatened American eel young.

(Above: Tuckerton Creek. Poachers steer clear. You will be nabbed.) 

While these New England and Canadian poachers are wise to the dangers of being caught in our the prime habitats of glass eels -- like Tuckerton Creek -- they have begun homing in on more hidden creeks. And we've got a country ton of them. 

(Above: Nature is allowed a glass eel or two.)

While I don't want local folks to get over aggressive, keep a sharp eye open along back roads to our creeks and backbay areas. Any pickups or SUVs from any New England state or Canadian provinces seen frequenting those back-bay accesses needs to be noted -- and reported, if vehicles seem to fit the bill of glass eel hunters, i.e. loaded with gear (aeration equipment), or even containing passenger seemingly reluctant to make eye contact in passing.

(Below: The eel cycle.)

Yes, the problem is this dramatic. Those little eels are netting literally millions of dollars in sales (mostly illegal) this year. I guarantee there are poachers nearby, as we speak. Glass eels are the equivalent of squirming gold. 

Of course, there is also a very real threat from NJ's very own poachers but the ramifications of being caught are surely severe   including nasty-ass fines and long-term or even lifelong relinquishing of all rights to hunt or fish in the state. However, I'll repeat: I guarantee there are poachers out there right now stealing our American eels stocks.  

Anyone observing what they suspect is illegal fishing activities should contact the DEP hotline at 877-WARNDEP (877-927-6337). 

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(13/P23) TRENTON - Conservation officers with the Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) Division of Fish and Wildlife have arrested and charged three men from Maine with illegally harvesting more than 24,000 juvenile eels from an Atlantic County creek, Division Director David Chanda announced today. 

The three men were arrested in the early morning hours of March 13. Two of the men, Robert L. Royce, 65, of Hope, Maine, and Neal V. Kenney III, 53, of Thomaston, Maine, were observed by conservation officers around 2:45 a.m. tending an illegally set net in the Absecon Creek in Absecon. 

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. They can fetch upwards of $2,500 per pound on the open market. American eel populations are stressed by a number of factors, including loss of habitat and overharvesting. 



Royce and Kenney were apprehended in possession of over three pounds of glass eels, equaling approximately 8,000 individual eels. Further investigation led the officers to a vehicle with a tank holding an additional six pounds of glass eels, equaling about 16,000 eels. Also charged was driver Dale B. Witham, 54, of Medomak, Maine. 

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 six 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. 

This is a Japanese growing plant, where glass eels are grown to sushi-able size. 

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. 

Eels lose habitat and migration corridors when waters are obstructed by dams and other mechanisms, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. Declines are also attributed to mortality in hydropower plant turbines, degradation of habitat, and overharvest. 

Adult eels live primarily in coastal lakes return to salt waters to spawn. Born in the Atlantic Ocean in what is known as the Sargasso Sea, juvenile eels migrate to fresh water in the spring, where they will remain for up to 20 years until reaching reproductive maturity. They then return to the ocean to spawn. 

(Below: One-man harvesting is a breeze with nets like this. The breeze gets cold when the cops move in and seize everything.)


When they enter fresh water as juveniles, they are known as "glass" eels because of their translucent appearance. The average length of glass eels in New Jersey during March is usually less than three inches. New Jersey law sets a minimum six-inch size limit on eels and an individual possession limit of 50 per day. 

Below: Culverts are a prime illegal harvesting site, offering cover. In this photo, that's a legal researcher. 

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