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April 18, 1997     Cape Gazette
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April 18, 1997

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le-c00 co00zm00'E, rrmay, IS- t807 Eel poaching sting nets seven lured by easycash in Sussex By Michael Short The eels are not much bigger than a thick strand of spaghetti. By the thousands, they migrate upstream and congregate below Delaware's ponds. Every spring, they arrive on their migration from the Atlantic Ocean and Sar- gasso Sea where they are spawned. Ignored for years, the glass eels (named because they are often transparent) have now become the target for poachers. They collect by the thousands as they try to make it past spillways below Mar- shall Pond, Red Mill Pond, Mills- bore Pond and Burton Pond. Poachers can get huge prices for the tiny eels. There are an estimat- ed 4,000 eels in a pound and poachers can get perhaps $350 a pound for the eels, according to Sgt. Aaron Hurd of the Delaware Fish and Wildlife Agents. Hurd and fellow agents have conducted a sting this spring and they: have snared seven eel poach- es, including a Delaware City Councilman and people from as far away as Maine. Last year, a group of eight South Carolina res- idents even brought their own re- frigerated seafood truck to poach the migrating eels. Hurd explained that the eels are sold to oriental markets. They have been called a delicacy, but that is really not the truth, he said. Instead, the eels are raised to edi- ble size of perhaps a pound and then sold on the market for per- haps $7 to $15. With 4,000 eels in a pound and the product reaching market size in a relatively short time, the po- tential for profit in both Asia and Sussex in enormous. And that has attracted poachers, he said The seven arrests were: John W. Michael Short photos These tiny glass eels, named because they are often trans- parent except for eyes, fetch tempting prices in oriental coun- tries. The eels are proving attractive to poachers in Sussex County because of the lure of easy money. The eels, which are raised to market size in oversea markets, can sell for $350 a pound. Whitby Jr., 27, from Smyrna, Tony W. Castango, 43, from Delaware City, Bruce W. Mer- chant, 31, Prospect Harbor, ME., Michael Cronin, 45, Gouldsboro, ME., Robert J. Barrett, 31, of Dover, Edward W. Garber, 51, of Dover and William C. Mintzer Jr., 25, of Milford. Taking an eel under six inches in length will bring a $500 fine. But a good fisherman on a good night can make that much money in I0 minutes. "Everybody wants to explain away the effect they have," Hurd said. He explained that eels are vul- nerable because vast numbers of them collect in a very few spots, making the fishery ripe for over- fishing. Eels are hardly a glam- ourous species, but they are im- portant food sources for every- thing from snakes and fish to the crabs that he has seen "fishing" at the spillways. A good fisherman can catch 20 or 30 pounds of eels a night, an amount of individual animals that is absolutely staggering. Because they are juveniles, the eels caught by poachers never have a chance to spawn and replenish the species. Hurd said eels have been over- fished in oriental countries and could easily be overfished here in America. After overfishing those areas, they have turned to Ameri- ca to meet the huge demand, he added. "They are all piled up in one place," Hurd said. 'q'hey are just so vulnerable." With dip nets or set nets, fisher- men catch the eels, keep them alive in oxygen rich water and then ship them overnight to for- eign markets. The internet even includes ads for eel sales, which Renoboth Planners chip By Trish Vernon The Rehoboth Beach Planning Commis- sion has launched a concerted effort to reach consensus within the community on the need for preserving its character. While few would oppose this noble en- deavor, there is wide disparity concerning how to go about it and what restrictions would be necessary and desirable in achiev- ing preservation of the city's charm. This became clearly evident during a Feb. 10 workshop the planners held on commu- nity preservation. "I think the concept of community preservation is received more favorably than historical preservation," said Planning Chairman Mary Campbell, noting that the Historical Preservation Ordinance fashioned last year by a consulting group didn't sit well with many citizens. The planners were advised by the state historical preservation office's Robin Bodo to concentrate on architectural review as a means of addressing the desire to ensure buildings stay in keeping with the sur- rounding streetscape, as site plan review would only address setbacks and size. Bo- do said that they could take the proposed Historic Preservation Ordinance and pick and choose from it to design a plan that fits Rehoboth Beach's needs. A lot of people don't understand or are away around, Planner Patti Shreeve noted, sug- gesting perhaps each member of the Plan- ning Commission could tackle a specific as- pect and explain it through the media in the form of an essay. She also suggested they devise a slogan and logo which encompasses the vision of the Long Range Plan, the umbrella under which the planners are attempting to devise a way to formalize their community preser- vation efforts. "Preserve the Charm" was Shreeve's idea, coupled with a logo that included a drawing of a charming Rehoboth Beach cottage. Planner Patty Derrick suggested they use the Anna Hazzard Museum which was recently torn down as part of the logo instead. She also advised they erect histori- cal markers on appropriate structures, which is a project that the Historical Soci- ety has recently launched. Shreeve called upon other organizations such as Main Street, the Rehoboth Histori- cal Society and Village Improvement Asso- ciation to take up the banner as well. Planner Allan Garey said his main con- cerns are that future buildings are consistent with the surrounding neighborhood, that trees be preserved along with the city's his- tory and that Rehoboth's economic viabili- ty he strengthened. Eel poaching is becoming big business in Sussex. Shown with an assortment of nets, oxygen tanks and aerators taken fom poachers is Fish and Wildlife enforcement agent Sgt. Aaron Hurd. Fish and wildlife officials worry that eel poach- ing could decimate the animals which congregate every spring below dams in several Sussex County ponds as they migrate to freshwater. are legal in many areas. One North Carolina fishermen caught poaching in Delaware last year told agents that he had to run downstream and hide underwater after being threatened by local poachers. 'q'he lure of the dollar meant he was not about to stay home," Hurd said. "He was just going to be careful." The lure is so strong that the number of people fishing in New Jersey increased ten fold last year to 3,000 individuals, he said. Hurd said that the fishing has produced a gold rush mentality. With the price for eels so high, fish and wildlife representatives have tried to find ways to raise fines beyond the $500. One solu- tion is to charge by the quarter pound, Hurd said. "A charge per pound of eels, that was just not at preservation, give nod to could take, Campbell admitted it is a "for- midable job, but once we put it all our vi- sions together we should be able to come up with recommendations. We need input from everyone in the community, or it will be a wasted effort." With that in mind, Campbell said she wanted to schedule a few meetings at which time they could give the public concise pro- posals for their input. Shreeve said-they should begin with a clear purpose clause and fellow planners were asked to create their own visions prior to the next meeting on May 12, so that they will he ready to dis- cuss them with the public at that time. Zoning change recommended The Rehoboth Beach Planning Commis- sion voted at the April 14 meeting to rec- ommend to the Board of Commissioners approval of a rezoning of 158 Columbia Avenue (two adjoining parcels also known as 86 Kent and 86 Columbia) property from R-1 to C-3. Owner of the parcel, Bruce Al- lan Garey, came before the planners with his request to rezone in order to relocate his hair studio, which is presently out on Rt. I, back into town. Garey told the planners he believes that when the zoning map was drawn up, that this particular parcel was somehow over- cutting it. That was taking away that night's profit and a little more." The eels who make it to fresh- water ponds live most of their lives (as long as 20 years) before they migrate to saltwater when sexually mature. They make their way to the Sargasso Sea to spawn and then die. The eels are so at- tractive to fishermen that in Maine, the "Portland Press Her- aid" reported last year that 2,200 people went eel fishing in Maine (which allows some fishing). Lt. Dan Morris of Maine's Marine Patrol is quoted that "as far as the complaints of thievery, threats, trespassing, litter, net molesting, that type of thing, those did not decrease at all...We were just as overwhelmed this year as we were last year." rezoning proposal is bordered on the west by the Printz Motel and across the street on Columbia it is zoned commercial to Felton Street, while the area behind that commercial strip on Columbia across the street is zoned R-2. On Garey's side of the street, from Re- hoboth Avenue to his parcel everyting is zoned C-3, while everything at the most westerly block of Sussex Street is also zoned {2-3. On the other side of the parcel lies the Scout House, which is owned by the city and not under zoning jurisdiction, and used to hold Boy Scout meetings and other functions. Garey said under the present zoning, he would not be able to get any return on the property, "as who would want to buy a resi- dential lot next to a motel?" He explained that his unsuccessful attempt to acquire a variance from the Board of Adjutment Was due to the fact that he couldn't prove hard- ship under the stringent tenets one must ful- fill, resulting in a 2-3 vote. Garey, a distant cousin of the Planning Commission member with whom he shares the same last name, said he would provide off-street parking and could create three spaces and that it is just himself and an as- sociate who operate in the salon so the traf- fic wouldn't be heavy. While there was resistance from some