Two Maine men pleaded guilty last week to dealing illegally caught elvers.

William Sheldon, 71, of Woolwich, who was described in a 2013 BuzzFeed profile as the founder of the fishery and an “elver kingpin,” admitted to trafficking more than half a million dollars worth of poached elvers, which can fetch a hefty paycheck in Asian markets.

Timothy Lewis, 46, of Phippsburg also pleaded guilty.

Sheldon, along with roughly a dozen other men allegedly involved in the multi-million-dollar poaching ring, were charged with illegally catching and trafficking elvers caught in New Jersey and Virginia, where there is no legal elver fishery.

According to the Bangor Daily News, over the course of four elver fishing seasons from 2011-14, Sheldon allegedly bought and sold 281 pounds of poached elvers, worth about $545,000. The scheme so far, which police named Operation Broken Glass, comprises more than $4 million worth of glass eels collected by 12 convicted poachers.

Sheldon has waived his right to appeal any sentence that includes a prison term of 30 months or less, and under federal guidelines could face a maximum fine of $250,000.

Sheldon is legally licensed to harvest and sell elvers in Maine, where the fishery’s value has boomed in recent years. According to reports, since 2012 the value of Maine’s annual total landings of elvers caught during the 10-week fishing season has averaged more than $20 million each year.

Walter McKee, Sheldon’s attorney, said the majority of elvers the harvester has handled over the years have been legal.

“Bill looks forward to giving the rest of the story at sentencing,” McKee said. “He is hardly any ‘kingpin,’ as he has been called over the past two years. We will show at sentencing that the total alleged illegal elvers were just north of 1 percent of the total legal elvers Bill purchased from 2011 to 2017.”

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Samuel Hill is the former associate editor for National Fisherman. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine where he got his start in journalism at the campus’ newspaper, the Free Press. He has also written for the Bangor Daily News, the Outline, Motherboard and other publications about technology and culture.

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