A federal judge has sentenced a Maine man to two years in prison for illegally trafficking in baby eels.

The judge sentenced Richard Austin, of Waldoboro, after he appeared in a federal court room in Norfolk, Virginia, this week. Austin pleaded guilty in April to violating federal law by selling elvers that he had illegally harvested in Virginia and Massachusetts.

Baby eels are valuable because they are sold to Asian aquaculture companies as seed stock so they can be raised to maturity and used as food. Court documents say Austin trafficked at least 147 pounds of elvers. That’s about 300,000 eels and is worth more than $162,000.

It’s only legal to harvest baby eels in Maine and South Carolina, and the fishery is tightly regulated.

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