An investigation into illegal eel sales in Maine nets a guilty plea and lucrative license suspensions nearly a year later. Two elver dealers in the state now face criminal charges after a Department of Marine Resources investigation into a string of illegal sales led to an early shutdown for the state’s lucrative fishery last spring.
Elver dealers and fishermen are required to use an electronic swipe card system that allows regulators to track the fishery in real time. But a Maine Marine Patrol investigation concluded that some dealers were paying less than the going rate — $2,400 per pound, on average — in cash and keeping the transactions off state records.
According to the Maine Department of Marine Resources, elver dealers Roger Bintliff and Freddie Mei are charged with making illegal transactions.
Bintliff, of Dresden, has pleaded guilty to a criminal misdemeanor charge of buying elvers without a required swipe card. As a result, his six elver dealer licenses are suspended for a year, starting Nov. 12, 2018. Those licenses allow him to buy elvers at six permanent locations in the state.
Mei has been charged with transporting elvers without a supplemental license, purchasing elvers without a check, failure to use an elver swipe card, failure to maintain accurate records, and transfer of elvers without using an elver swipe card.
He owned multiple licenses, and worked in St. George and Portland, Maine, and Newton, Mass. The charges against Mei have not been resolved yet, but a two-year suspension of his licenses began on Nov. 21, 2018.
“The investigation into illegal transactions last season continues,” said Jeff Nichols, spokesman for Maine's DMR.
Poaching, smuggling and other illegal operations have increased in the fishery as elvers have become more valuable — from an average price of $100 per pound a decade ago to more than $2,300 per pound last year.
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife investigation last year led to the arrest and conviction of the so-called Grandfather of Eel Fishing, along with charges filed for 20 alleged accomplices in the last two years. Five men were sentenced as a result of the federal investigation.
Last summer, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission rejected an effort to expand Maine’s elver fishery by increasing the annual quota by 20 percent, citing the depleted state of the stock and increased crime as reason for rejecting the proposal.