UPDATED – HAMPTON, VA. — Two Chinese men who police believe were out to snatch every large fish they could, regardless of legal limits, rules or species – in order to sell whole large fish to various Chinese restaurants for the Chinese New Year on Feb. 19th, now face serious felony charges.
The poaching fishermen were in a twelve foot boat, that Virginia Marine Police told reporters who were covering their sting operation, that they were surprised would even float.
The Virginian Pilot reports: One suspect recently acquired a commercial fishing license, but the other had no license
The two men had concealed unmarked gill nets across several locations on the Elizabeth River in recent weeks and had sparked several calls about poaching activities, according to statements issued by Marine Police Officer Bill Thompson. Police believe the two men may have killed as many as 4,000 to 5,000 pounds of protected fish species.
After reports of suspicious activity in an area of the river known as The Cove, the police set up a sting operation and were waiting at the dock when the first prospective seafood dealer for local Chinese restaurants returned to the dock with his boat almost sinking due to the greed of his overloaded small boat.
“Of these hundreds of fish, almost all of them, about 98 percent of them, are over the legal size limit,” Thompson told one local newspaper. “This was a complete disregard for the species and for the fisheries. This was poaching on a large scale.”
Waiting for the second boat-load of illegally caught fish the police soon had hundreds of pounds of fish to put on ice and donate to a food bank and two Norfolk area men in custody. At this point, police report that Yuan Li of Chesapeake and Bi Chen of Norfolk have several charges against them with more on the way and while they might be out of jail for this Chinese New Year, next year’s celebration might be a different story.
It may be revealed that the men had orders for the fish from restaurants as far away as Washington, Baltimore and New York.
Serving a whole fish for the Chinese New Year Celebration is a symbol of good luck.
“You’ve got a 12-foot boat, breaking ice, working in dangerous conditions to haul in thousands of pounds of fish — you’re not doing that unless it’s profiting you,” Thompson told reporters.