A former Passamaquoddy tribal representative to the Maine Legislature and his two sons are among eight people who have been charged with three counts of felony possession of American eels, and conspiracy to commit a crime in the state of New York. Fred Moore of Perry, a vocal critic of the state of Maine's elver management plan, said the other six are members of the Unkechaug Indian Nation on Long Island. And he said were all arrested while trying to carry out the Unkechaug's own conservation plan for eels.
Moore said he and his sons were in Long Island at the direction of Passamaquoddy Chief Clayton Cleaves as part of an agreement to help the Unkechaug manage and re-establish an eel population in their traditional range.
He said, at some point, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation was alerted to the group's activities in a creek on Long Island's east end and waited in the weeds for the tribal members to come back and start emptying their nets of elvers or baby eels.
"And they pounced on them and told them they were in violation of several New York statutes, at which point the Department of Environmental Conservation folks were referred to the tribal chief and provided a copy of the fishing permit. They said they were aware of it but that eels were endangered."
Moore said all of the Unkechaug had permits issued by the tribe itself. He said, had the group not been harassed by authorities, most of the baby eels would have been stocked above artificial barriers.
"This is a native American government that has sovereignty, that is taking responsible stewardship seriously," Moore said. "And, like I said, they're being treated like they robbed a 7-11 at gunpoint."
A spokeswoman for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation declined to talk on tape or to release many details about the case. But in an email to MPBN, Lisa King said the eight people surrendered themselves to the department on April 8 and were charged with illegal possession of undersize and over-the-limit American eels.
In New York, fishing for adult eels is permitted. Fishing for elvers is not. Unkechaug Chief Harry Wallace said the tribe will fight the charges. "We will vigorously fight and defend our right to engage in activity which we know will guarantee survival of a species that, for all intents and purposes, is endangered," Wallace said.
The eight defendants are due in court on June 25.