(CN) - A Brooklyn, N.Y. man has been ordered to pay $70,000 to settle charges he poached glass eels with the intent of selling them at a huge profit on the Asian food fish market.
Milton Sum, 36, was arrested in September after officers with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation seized a 37 kilogram shipment of live glass eels, valued at $60,000, at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
He subsequently pleaded guilty to a charge of illegal commercialization of protected wildlife and one count of unlawful possession of undersized fish, the agency announced Friday.
He was ordered to forfeit $60,000 on the value of the eels and to pay a $10,000 fine.
Glass eels, which look like nothing so much as crystal clear earthworms, are the juvenile life stage of the American eels. They are protected in 48 of the 50 states -- Maine and South Carolina being the only exceptions -- and in adulthood they are pigmented and can be as much as three-feet long.
It is unlawful to take or possess American eels less than nine inches long in New York without a permit.
Ordinarily a low-value item, the price of glass eels has skyrocketed in recent years thanks to a 2010 European moratorium on their exportation, and declining stocks elsewhere. Recently they've priced as high as $1,136 per pound.
Whether sold legally by fisherman in the two states that allow their capture and exportation, or illegally, as Sum was attempting to do, the eels are flown live to China and other parts of Asia to be raised in massive aquatic farms.
The adult eels are sold primarily in Japan, where they are considered a roasted delicacy, and to the United States, where they wind up in sushi.
The Department of Environmental Conservation said the eels have been released back to the wild.
In a separate case, earlier this year, Environmental Conservation Police, with the assistance of the Brooklyn District Attorney's office, arrested two men in Brooklyn back in March for trafficking illegally harvested undersized American Eels.
They pleaded guilty to misdemeanor level illegal commercialization of protected wildlife. Tommy Waters Zhou, 40, of Brooklyn, entered his plea on July 10, 2015, and was ordered to forfeit $3,000 as restitution. Richard Austin, 37, of Waldeboro, Maine, pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charges on June 2, 2015, and was ordered to forfeit $15,000.
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