Feds accuse Maine man of trafficking in poached baby eels
WOOLWICH (BDN) -- A 70-year-old Woolwich man has been indicted by a federal grand jury alleging that he trafficked in poached elvers — juvenile American eels — between 2011 and 2014.
William Sheldon, a longtime commercial elver dealer operating as Kennebec Glass Eels, is charged with conspiracy and violating the federal Lacey Act, which prohibits interstate transport or transactions of any species of fish or wildlife illegally harvested or handled in any state.
Each of the seven counts carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Sheldon will plead not guilty to the charges, his attorney, Walter McKee, said Tuesday. He is scheduled for arraignment on March 30 in U.S. District Court in Portland.
Prosecutors say that from 2011 to 2014, while Sheldon was licensed in Maine and South Carolina to commercially harvest elvers, he violated the Lacey Act by buying or selling eels illegally poached in Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia and North Carolina.
According to the indictment, during that time, only Maine, South Carolina and Florida allowed commercial harvest of elvers, the tiny, juvenile American eels that are exported to Asia — and that at the time fetched a per-pound price of $1,500.
Investigators say Sheldon conspired with at least five other people to traffic the eels and submit false documentation about the transactions.
On May 1, 2014, law enforcement agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Maine Marine Patrol executed a search warrant at Jasper’s Motel in Ellsworth, and searched two rooms rented by Sheldon.
In an affidavit filed in federal court, agents said Sheldon encouraged fishermen, some of whom were undercover federal agents, to fish in prohibited areas and and that he bought elvers that he knew had not been legally harvested.
In addition to the potential sentence, prosecutors are asking that Sheldon be required to forfeit his 2012 Ford F450 truck, which carries the Maine license plate “EELWGN.”
The Maine Marine Patrol and the Department of Marine Resources are investigating whether the charges will affect Sheldon’s elver licenses.
Opening day of elver season is March 22.
BDN staff writer Bill Trotter contributed to this report.