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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Three Plead Guilty to Trafficking in More Than $740,000 Worth of Glass Eels

Three individuals pleaded guilty in federal district court in Charleston, South Carolina, to trafficking more than $740,000 worth of juvenile American eels aka “elvers” or “glass eels,” in violation of the Lacey Act.  Harry Wertan, Jr., Mark Weihe and Jay James each pleaded guilty to selling or transporting elvers in interstate commerce, which they had harvested illegally, or knew had been harvested illegally, in South Carolina.
The pleas were the result of “Operation Broken Glass,” a multi-jurisdiction U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) investigation into the illegal trafficking of American eels.  To date, the investigation has resulted in guilty pleas for ten individuals whose combined conduct resulted in the illegal trafficking of more than $2.6 million worth of elvers.

The guilty pleas were announced today by Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Beth Drake for the District of South Carolina, and Director Dan Ashe of the USFWS.

“We will not allow the rivers of the United States to be the poaching grounds for international seafood markets,” said Assistant Attorney General Cruden. “The American eel is an important but limited natural and economic resource that must be protected.  Trafficking only undercuts the toil and honest efforts of those who obey the law.”

“This case underscores the role U.S. citizens often play in wildlife trafficking and demonstrates that this deadly trade does not solely impact large, charismatic mammals in distant countries,” said Director Dan Ashe for USFWS. “U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement agents work tirelessly to save wildlife from the threat traffickers pose here at home, and together with the Department of Justice, bring these individuals to justice for their illegal activities.”

Eels are highly valued in east Asia for human consumption.  Historically, Japanese and European eels were harvested to meet this demand; however, overfishing has led to a decline in the population of these eels.  As a result, harvesters have turned to the American eel to fill the void resulting from the decreased number of Japanese and European eels.

American eels spawn in the Sargasso Sea, an area of the North Atlantic Ocean bounded on all sides by ocean currents.  They then travel as larvae from the Sargasso to the coastal waters of the eastern United States, where they enter a juvenile or elver stage, swim upriver and grow to adulthood in fresh water.  Elvers are exported for aquaculture in east Asia, where they are raised to adult size and sold for food.  Harvesters and exporters of American eels in the United States can sell elvers to east Asia for more than $2000 per pound.

Because of the threat of overfishing, elver harvesting is prohibited in the United States in all but three states: Maine, South Carolina and Florida.  Maine and South Carolina heavily regulate elver fisheries, requiring that individuals be licensed and report all quantities of harvested eels to state authorities.  Although Florida does not have specific elver-related regulations, the limited population of elvers in Florida waters makes commercial eel fishing impossible.

“This investigation is an outstanding example of the dedication and ingenuity shown by multiple agencies working together to expose and curtail the illegal trade of American eels,” said Special Agent-in-Charge Luis Santiago Southeast Region for USFWS. “Today’s pleas are a success in our collective efforts to conserve and protect an important American fishery.”
“Today’s pleas in the illegal trade of American Eels are a tremendous step in preserving this important fishery,” said Colonel Chisolm Frampton for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Law Enforcement Division.  “A multitude of state and federal agencies did outstanding work to bring this case to successful conclusion.”

The offenses in the case are felonies under the Lacey Act, each carrying a maximum penalty of five years’ incarceration, a fine of up to $250,000 or up to twice the gross pecuniary gain or loss, or both.

Operation Broken Glass was conducted by the USFWS and the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section in collaboration with the Maine Marine Patrol, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division, New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife Bureau of Law Enforcement, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Conservation Police, Virginia Marine Resources Commission Police, USFWS Refuge Law Enforcement, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement, Massachusetts Environmental Police, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Division of Law Enforcement, New York State Environmental Conservation Police, New Hampshire Fish and Game Division of Law Enforcement, Maryland Natural Resources Police, North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission Division of Law Enforcement, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Yarmouth, Massachusetts Division of Natural Resources, North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina Police Department and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Delaware River Basin Commission Approves Drought Management Special Permit

Basin Placed in “Drought Watch” Stage Effective Immediately

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) at a special meeting today issued a special permit for coordinated operation of regional reservoirs, out-of-basin diversions, and Delaware River flow objectives in response to persistent dry conditions.

“The special permit unanimously approved today provides for enhanced coordination of operations of regional reservoirs, diversions, and flow objectives during the ongoing, extended period of below-normal precipitation,” said DRBC Executive Director Steve Tambini. “Today’s action also makes clear that the entire basin is currently deemed to be in a ‘drought watch’ stage.”

The DRBC’s primary drought management objective, which complements the basin states’ drought response efforts, is to provide for conservation of regional reservoir storage for purposes of water supply and flow augmentation in the Delaware River and salinity control in the Delaware River Estuary.

The special permit issued today under section 10.4 of the compact that created the DRBC in 1961 provides a single set of water resource management responses to address dry conditions both “basinwide” and in the “lower basin,” which is the portion of the basin downstream of Montague, N.J.

Under the special permit, the transition from one possible drought stage to another – from “watch” to “warning” to “drought” and back again to “normal” – will be based on the combined storage in three reservoirs located in the Catskill Mountains at the headwaters of the Delaware River in New York State. Releases from these New York City reservoirs provide about half of the city’s water supply and support a minimum flow target in the Delaware River at Montague established by the U.S. Supreme Court Decree of 1954.  Combined storage in the three reservoirs is now approximately 40% of capacity.   In accordance with the provisions of the compact, today’s resolution has also been unanimously approved by the parties to the decree, which include Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York State, and New York City.

Out-of-basin diversions to New York City and portions of New Jersey established by the 1954 decree will be reduced depending upon the drought stages defined by the special permit.  However, a reserve “bank” of water established by the decree parties over the course of the past year in anticipation of a dry period such as the current one will be available, allowing New Jersey to minimize the effects of possible diversion reductions.

The Delaware River flow objective at Montague and a second flow objective at Trenton, N.J. will also be reduced and will be dependent on the location of the “salt line” in the Delaware River Estuary if the basin enters into the most serious “drought” stage of operations.

The purpose of the Trenton flow objective is to control the movement of the “salt line” or “salt front” in the tidal Delaware River.  Adequate freshwater flowing downstream is needed to repel the upstream advancement of “salty” or “brackish” water from Delaware Bay to keep it away from drinking water intakes serving residents in Philadelphia and New Jersey and industrial intakes along the river.

“As of Nov. 20, the salt front is 19 river miles upstream from its normal location for the month despite significant freshwater reservoir releases,” said Tambini. “The current salt front location is still 21 miles downstream of water supply intakes in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.”

Under the “drought watch” stage operations initiated today, several hydroelectric, recreation, and federal reservoirs may be requested to either store or release water.  In addition, releases may be required from Merrill Creek Reservoir, a facility in Warren County, N.J. constructed by a consortium of electric utilities, to replace evaporative losses caused by power generation.

The DRBC held a public hearing on Nov. 9 to solicit public input on the persistent dry conditions throughout the basin and how to address them, as required by the compact before being able to take today’s action.

The below-normal precipitation totals throughout most of the Delaware River Basin, with the resulting effects on streamflows, groundwater levels, reservoir storage, and soil moisture, have prompted New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York to declare drought watches or warnings under their respective drought operating plans in 36 of the 42 counties that lie entirely or partially in the basin.

The DRBC is urging all water users to fully cooperate with requests by the basin states to curb water use where drought watches and warnings have been issued and is encouraging all basin water users to maximize water efficiency wherever possible. “Over 15 million people rely on waters of the Delaware River Basin,” said Tambini. “During times of shortage, they also rely upon coordinated action by the basin states, decree parties, and federal government jointly through the DRBC to meet the basin’s drought management objectives.”

The DRBC is a federal/interstate government agency responsible for managing the water resources within the 13,539 square-mile Delaware River Basin without regard to political boundaries. The five commission members are the governors of the basin states (Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania) and the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' North Atlantic Division, who represents the federal government.

More information, including links to basin state drought pages, updates about water resource conditions, and water savings tips, can be found at www.drbc.net.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Delaware River Basin Commission Is Holding A Special Drought Meeting

Meeting to be Held November 23, 2016 at 11 AM in DRBC's Goddard Room
The DRBC will hold a special meeting for the purpose of considering a resolution pursuant to section 10.4 of the Delaware River Basin Compact to preserve and protect water supplies during the present dry conditions by means of coordinated actions to manage out-of-basin diversions, regional reservoir releases, and Delaware River flow objectives. The Commissioners will have the option of attending this meeting via teleconference.

DATE: The special meeting will take place on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 at 11:00 a.m. and is expected to last for less than one hour.

LOCATION: The meeting is open to the public and will take place in the Goddard Room of the Commission’s office building at 25 State Police Drive in West Trenton, New Jersey. Directions can be found at http://www.nj.gov/drbc/contact/directions/. Please note that web-based map applications do not provide reliable directions to DRBC’s office building.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Commission will consider action pursuant to section 10.4 of the Delaware River Basin Compact, which would enable it to implement a coordinated response to dry conditions throughout the basin. In particular, the resolution would empower the Commission to provide for the conservation of regional reservoir storage through phased reductions in diversions, reservoir releases, and flow objectives for purposes of water supply and flow augmentation in the Delaware River and salinity control in the Delaware River Estuary.

In anticipation of the need to consider action under section 10.4, the Commission on November 9, 2016 conducted a public hearing on the persistent dry conditions throughout the basin and how to address them. There will be no opportunity for public comment at the special meeting on November 23.

The proposed resolution will be posted as soon as it becomes available. Reservoir storage and relevant drought related information is available via http://www.nj.gov/drbc/hydrological/drought/index.html

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Pamela Bush, Commission Secretary and Assistant General Counsel, DRBC, at pamela.bush@drbc.nj.gov.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Cold Facts on the ‘120-Degree Rule’

You may have put your boat away for the season, but the occasional warm fall day still brings plenty of paddlers out on the water. Knowing when to wear the thermal protection offered by a dry- or wetsuit is key. However, a long-assumed guideline meant to help paddlers make the right decision, sometimes known as the “120-degree rule,” may instead put paddlers in danger.

The 120-degree rule adds the air and water temperatures to determine when thermal protection is required. It assumes that if the total is above 120 F, that no dry- or wet-suit is needed.

“Using this simple formula,” says BoatUS Foundation Assistant Director of Boating Safety Ted Sensenbrenner, “a paddler could mistakenly believe that if air temperature is the low 70s and water temperature is hovering around the low 50s, that thermal protection is not necessary. That could not be farther from the truth.”

Sensenbrenner says that warm fall or spring days give paddlers a false sense of security. “Water temperatures have plunged, but the warm sun on your face hides the reality that accidentally going overboard at this time of year could quickly lead to trouble.”

According to research, sudden cold-water immersion can kill in several ways: involuntary gasp reflex and hyperventilation, cold incapacitation, and immersion hypothermia. Not wearing a life jacket compounds the drowning risk.

A word to the wise? “Always wear a life jacket when in an open boat or on deck, and consider the water temperature when dressing for your next boating adventure,” says Sensenbrenner. For more on cold-water boating including what to wear, go to BoatUS.org/cold-water-boating.

Friday, November 04, 2016

New York DEC Emergency Regulation Prohibits Fishing for All Species in Sections of the Esopus Creek & Ashokan Reservoir:

Emergency Regulations Prohibit Fishing from 11/4/16 until 1/31/17

Effective 11/2/16, a new DEC Emergency Regulation prohibits fishing for all species in the following sections of the upper Esopus creek and Ashokan reservoir:

- from the Shandaken Tunnel outlet in Allaben, to a downstream boundary in the Ashokan Reservoir from the mouth of Traver Hollow stream due east to the old railroad causeway (see attached PDF for map of area affected by the regulation).

This Emergency Regulation is in effect until January 31, 2107.

Due to prolonged dry conditions, the Esopus Creek and its tributary streams are experiencing very low water flow, creating a stressful environment for trout. Additional stress on these fish from angling may impact their ability to spawn and produce the next generation of trout.

Low water conditions on the Esopus Creek

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Three Salmon Poachers Arrested After Early-Morning Chase

Three men suspected of poaching during the annual salmon run were arrested the morning of November 2, after leading police on a wild chase in the woods in Niagara County.

The incident occurred just after 2 a.m. when DEC Environmental Conservation Officers (ECOs) were conducting a night patrol along the Lake Ontario shoreline and its tributaries.

ECOs Roger Ward and Nathan Ver Hague were checking the Burt Dam area of 18-mile Creek in Newfane when they noticed several large garbage bags piled on a pathway. The officers inspected the bags and found them loaded with freshly caught salmon.

At the same time, a pickup truck slowly drove by the area. Two men approached on foot and ECO Ward revealed himself and ordered the men to stop. The men took off running through the woods. ECO Ward apprehended one suspect hiding in the brush, but as ECO Ver Hague chased the other down to the creek, the man dove in and swam off. The Niagara County Sheriff's Department was called for assistance.

Deputy Matt Grainge responded and located a pickup truck a short distance away matching the description given by the ECOs. The driver was sitting inside awaiting a call from the other two men.

Deputies Keith Hetrick, John Vosberg and a K-9 officer tracked the suspect who swam across the creek and eventually located him attempting to climb up a gorge. He was taken into custody.

A total of 69 salmon ranging in size from 5 to 35 pounds had been poached from the creek, the subjects using a weighted treble hook and net to snag the fish.

The three men - Sergey Yatchuk, 41, of 55 Applewood Ln., Getzville, Petro Parfenyk, 29, of 2204 Prospect Ave., Erie, Penn., and Mikhail F. Sakalosh, 39, of 8322 Taylor Colquitt Rd., Spartanburg, S.C. - were charged with 32 violations, including fishing without a license, possessing foul-hooked fish, taking fish by snatching, taking fish in excess of daily limit, and illegal fishing at night.

The three suspects were remanded to the county jail in lieu of bail, $1,100 for Parfenyk and Sakalosh and $1,000 for Yatchuk.