April 6, 2017 — The following was released by the U.S. Justice Department:
Today, Tommy Water Zhou pled guilty in federal district court in Norfolk, Virginia, to trafficking more than $150,361 worth of juvenile American eels, aka “elvers” or “glass eels,” in violation of the Lacey Act. As part of his guilty plea, Zhou admitted to illegally selling or purchasing elvers in interstate commerce, which had been harvested illegally in Virginia.
According to the statement of facts filed with the plea agreement, in 2010, Zhou established a seafood distribution company known as Wilson Group Sea Trading LLC. The company’s principle place of business was Brooklyn, New York, and its operations included importing seafood for domestic consumption and exporting seafood to international markets. In 2013, the defendant obtained a Maine elver dealer license, authorizing him to purchase and resell elvers harvested in Maine. Thereafter, using his Maine dealer license to cover his illegal activity, the defendant began purchasing and exporting elvers that were actually harvested from Virginia waterways in violation of Virginia law.
This plea was the result of “Operation Broken Glass,” a multi-jurisdiction U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) investigation into the illegal trafficking of American eels. To date, the investigation has resulted in guilty pleas for eleven individuals whose combined conduct resulted in the illegal trafficking of more than $2.75 million worth of elvers.
The guilty plea was announced today by Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Acting Director Jim Kurth of the USFWS.
“We will not allow illegal wildlife traffickers to undermine managed fish species like the American eel,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Wood. “In this operation, we are actively partnering with states all along the East Coast to enforce the law and protect our nation’s waterways from further exploitation.”