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Brothers Charged with Eel Smuggling After Manhunt on NH Seacoast

Police attempted to break up a $2,000-per-pound international eel smuggling scheme when one man eluded capture.

UPDATE, 2:45 p.m.: New Hampshire Fish and Game has identified the two brothers arrested earlier today in Hampton Falls for illegally harvesting young eels in a New Hampshire coastal river.

Matthew Kinney, 29, of Bremen, Maine is charged with assaulting a police officer, disobeying a conservation officer, resisting arrest, taking American eels less than 6 inches in length, and taking American eels without a harvest permit. Bail was set at $5,000 cash.

His brother, Justin Kinney, 35, of Mt. Vernon, Maine is charged with disobeying a conservation officer, hindering apprehension, providing false information to an officer, taking American eels less than 6 inches in length, and taking American eels without a harvest permit. Bail was set at $2,500 cash.

If they are unable to post bail, Matthew and Justin Kinney will be held at the Rockingham County jail until their arraignment on Monday in Seabrook District Court.

According to a press release, New Hampshire Fish and Game Law Enforcement received information around 5 a.m. Friday that two individuals were dipping glass eels, also known as elvers, in the Hampton Falls River near Route 1 in Hampton Falls.

Fish and Game conservation officers responded to the scene and found the men leaving the site in possession of illegal glass eels. While being handcuffed, Matthew Kinney resisted. He reportedly struck an officer and was pepper sprayed, then fell into the Hampton Falls River and fled into the nearby marsh. Justin Kinney also fled, but was taken back into custody a short time later.

A search commenced for Matthew Kinney involving conservation officers, state police, police from Seabrook, Hampton Falls and Kensington, K-9 teams from Fish and Game and state police, and a state police helicopter. A state police tracking dog led searchers to Matthew Kinney's location in a rented room at the Hampton Falls Inn. He was taken into custody at 9:15 a.m.

Fish and Game said a number of incidents of poaching migrating young eels have occurred in the region as the price they bring on foreign markets has escalated.

"It is a violation of the law to harvest these young eels in New Hampshire," New Hampshire Fish and Game Conservation Officer Lt. Michael Eastman said. "As this incident shows, we are aggressively enforcing that law, and perpetrators will face significant consequences."

An earlier story follows:

Authorities have two men in custody on international eel-smuggling charges following a manhunt in Hampton Falls that ensued when one suspect escaped after police pepper-sprayed and handcuffed him.

New Hampshire State Police Lt. Chris Vetter said information was limited Friday morning, although he confirmed two suspects were involved and that both had been apprehended as of 10 a.m.

The incident began around 4:30 a.m. Friday when a New Hampshire Fish and Game officer received information that the suspects — wanted for illegally fishing for eels along New Hampshire's coast — would be in Hampton, according to the Associated Press.

One suspect was arrested, although Hampton Police Lt. Dan Gidley said the other individual escaped in handcuffs despite being pepper-sprayed. Gidley said his department wasn't involved in the matter, and said he didn't have any additional information Friday morning.

Hampton-North Hampton Patch readers reported seeing a state police helicopter flying low near the Hampton Falls-Seabrook town line, and K-9 units and New Hampshire Fish and Game officers were searching for the man in Hampton Falls before he was arrested at a Hampton Falls hotel, according to WMUR.

A press conference was scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Friday at the Seabrook police station to disclose more information about the case.

A Candia man was cited last month in Maine for possession of $61,000, or 41 pounds, of baby eels, according to Boston.com. Boston.com reported that the price of baby eels, known as elvers, is about $2,000 a pound and that legislators are considering ways to make illegal elver possession a criminal offense rather than a civil violation in order to deter illegal activity.

Ski beach family May 05, 2013 at 12:19 PM
Taking baby eels is simular to taking baby / short lobster and has a profound effect on the whole ecosystem. The offense needs to be criminal with serious fines to deter these poachers.

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