Leonard C Boyle, Acting United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, and Edward Grace, Assistant Director of the Office of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, announced that KING SHEUNG CHAN, also known as “Nelson,” 30, a permanent resident of Hong Kong of the People’s Republic of China, waived his right to be indicted and pleaded guilty today in Bridgeport federal court to one count of attempted smuggling of glass eels from the United States.
According to court documents and statements made in court, there is strong foreign demand for the export of live juvenile American glass eels, commonly called “glass eels” or “elvers,” to large “eel farms” in mainland China where the baby eels are raised to adult size for human consumption. Along the Atlantic Coast, the commercial harvest of glass eels is legal only in South Carolina and Maine, with Maine using a heavily regulated quota system. In recent years, the legal price for glass eels has generally fluctuated between $3,000 and $5,000 per kilogram.
The illegal harvest and sale of glass eels to overseas buyers have damaged American eel populations and their long-term vitality. Since 2014, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has listed the American eel as “Endangered.”
Chan worked for Asia Aquatic Company, Ltd., based in Hong Kong, and a Canadian company named Laknock Trading. Chan’s job was to procure glass eels from countries in North America and Europe, and to have them shipped via overnight air to Hong Kong.
On April 7, 2021, Chan packed 19.3 kilograms of live glass eels worth approximately $86,000 that had been stored at a Connecticut facility. Chan was told by undercover U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) officers who were posing as fisherman that these glass eels had been unlawfully harvested from Virginia, Maryland and Massachusetts. After packing the glass eels in oxygenated bags, he paid $29,500 to the undercover officers and drove the live cargo to JFK Airport.
Later that afternoon, Chan met the freight forwarder near JFK Airport that was handling the in-transit shipment of 10 boxes shipped by Laknock Trading from Canada. Chan had arranged for the shipment of the boxes, which contained bags of dead glass eels with a few live ones mixed in. Chan opened the boxes, took out the bags of dead glass eels, and replaced them with the bags of live glass eels packed a few hours before in Connecticut. Chan resealed the boxes and returned them to the freight forwarder, which transported the shipment to the airline cargo area for export to Hong Kong. Shortly thereafter, FWS officers arrested Chan and seized the glass eels from the airline cargo area. FWS later released the glass eels into the wild.
In pleading guilty, Chan admitted that, in 2017, he illegally smuggled 103 kilograms of glass eels, valued at approximately $340,000, from the U.S. to Hong Kong. Some of those glass eels had been illegally harvested in Connecticut.
“I commend the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for holding accountable those individuals who drive this illegal market and deplete an important American wildlife resource for their selfish gain,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Boyle. “We shall continue to investigate and prosecute those actors, foreign and domestic, who profit from this illicit, lucrative trade.”
“In addition to the robust legal trade of American juvenile eels, or elvers, they are also subject to poaching and international trafficking,” said Edward Grace, the Assistant Director of the Office of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Our natural resources are important to the American public and to its economy. Working with our state and federal partners, the defendant was arrested and prosecuted in the United States for his crimes. His guilty plea sends a message to all wildlife traffickers, you will be caught and you will be prosecuted.”
Chan has been detained since his arrest. He is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Michael P. Shea on September 30, 2021, at which time he faces a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years and a fine of up to $250,000.
This matter is being investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Chen.