- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 29, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) - Federal prosecutors say three men have pleaded guilty to trafficking more than $740,000 worth of juvenile American eels.

A statement from the U.S. Department of Justice said Harry Wertan Jr., Mark Weihe and Jay James each pleaded guilty on Monday in federal district court in Charleston to selling or transporting the eels, also known as elvers.

Prosecutors say the men either harvested the eels illegally, or knew they had been harvested illegally, in South Carolina.

The pleas were the result of “Operation Broken Glass,” a multi-jurisdiction investigation that’s resulted in guilty pleas from 10 people whose activities resulted in the illegal trafficking of more than $2.6 million worth of elvers.

“We will not allow the rivers of the United States to be the poaching grounds for international seafood markets,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney General John Cruden. Eels are highly valued in east Asia for human consumption.

The three men each face a maximum of five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 or both, when they are sentenced.

Because of the threat of overfishing, elver harvesting is prohibited in all but three states: Maine, South Carolina and Florida. Maine and South Carolina strictly regulate elver fisheries. Florida does not have specific regulations but has a limited population of elvers.

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