HAMPTON FALLS - Two brothers from Maine suspected of poaching baby eels to sell overseas were arrested this morning after trying to slip away when authorities moved in to catch them in the act.
Matthew Kinney, 29, of Bremen, and his brother, Justin, 35, of Mount Vernon, will face numerous charges after their run in with Fish and Game officers that led to a land and air search.
Fish and Game Lt. Michael Eastman said authorities received a tip early this morning that two men were catching baby American eels in the Hampton Falls River.
Eastman said two conservation officers responded to the area shortly before 5 a.m. and found that the brothers had a "substantial amount" of young eels less than six inches long.
When one of the officers attempted to arrest Matthew Kinney, Eastman said he assaulted the officer and then ran into the river and later fled into the woods with a handcuff on one of his wrists. Justin Kinney ran into the marsh grass and was arrested at the scene.
Several local police agencies, Fish and Game, State Police hunted Matthew Kinney with the help of dogs and a helicopter.
A State Police K-9 team eventually found a track leading from the area where he was last seen to the Hampton Falls Inn on Route 1. Eastman said authorities learned the brothers had rented a room at the hotel Thursday night.
They found Matthew Kinney inside his hotel room around 9 a.m. He was removing his wet clothing when authorities showed up and arrested him.
Eastman said "dipping" for the young eels, known as elvers, is legal in Maine, but not in New Hampshire. He said Maine and South Carolina are the only states where it's allowed on the East Coast.
"They were pretty much down here to poach elvers to take back to Maine to sell," Eastman said.
The baby eels can fetch an estimated $2,000 a pound overseas, particularly in the Asian market, Eastman said.
"This is pretty much like having a duck season where all you can shoot is ducklings. They're taking immature eels, or young eels. What we're seeing is that this poaching is causing the bigger eels, the American eels, to decline," Eastman said.
Eastman did not identify the conservation officer who was assaulted, but he said the officer wasn't injured.
Matthew Kinney will be charged with two counts of simple assault, disobeying a conservation officer, resisting arrest, taking American eels less than 6 inches long, and taking without a harvest permit.
Justin Kinney will faces charges of disobeying a conservation officer, providing false information to law enforcement, hindering apprehension, taking American eels less than 6 inches long and taking without a harvest permit.
The two are being held on cash bail and will be arraigned Monday if they're unable to post bail, Eastman said.