A man dumped two sacks full of eels into Prospect Park Lake
At first he thought they were snakes. Two huge sacks of contractors, full of snakes, ripped open and spilled onto the path at the southwestern edge of Prospect Park Lake, where they looked like the Well of Souls Hunter of the lost treasure. But they were a whole different nightmare: eels. Hundreds of foot-long eels squirming lethargically, ready to die.
Andrew Orkin had run. (Not from the eels, at least initially.) He was a composer by day, jogging from his home in Prospect Lefferts Gardens until the sun went down in the park. The rush had eased as the sweltering afternoon barbecues died down, and as he rounded the park’s southwest edge on Sunday, he slowed his pace to stretch out in a quiet lakeside spot near Vanderbilt Playground. Then he noticed a sudden excitement. A woman screamed. Andrew spun around and saw a horrible, writhing heap. Could that be snakes leaking out of the bag? The woman seemed to think so. Andrew isn’t a New Yorker – he grew up in South Africa – and he knows about snakes. He was ready to sprint until a fisherman alerted him to the oddness ahead.
Dominick Pabon, who used to live near the lake shore, has been night fishing there for catfish since he was 14. He’s seen a lot, but nothing like that. But Dom, a cook and Oyster catererHe knows the park – its ecology, its rules, its neglect – and he notices when things are unusual. He’d come from Sunset Park with his wife to enjoy the cool waters in the evenings, which lure catfish to shallower fishing grounds. When Dom saw the all-white man with the sacks in tow, he knew something was wrong.
The man came from outside the park, seemingly from a waiting car, and left with the calm of someone who would like to be ignored. He was dragging two heavy black plastic garbage bags behind him. The plain white outfit, thought Andrew, suggested he was a kitchen or market hand. He knew what he was doing, Dom believed.
A twig got in his way and he got caught in one of the sacks, tearing it open and freeing dozens of eels. With the lake still about 30 meters away and a growing crowd of onlookers beginning to indignantly ask what he was doing, the Eelbringer panicked. “I’ll save their lives!” he promised as he picked up the eels and began throwing them into the lake. “It was quite unusual to see that. So for 2020, that’s not surprising,” says Andrew. “It was one of those things where you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, that seems totally spot on.'”
Dom didn’t have it, though. He had already caught some of those black spotted eels at the lake in the last few years – two footed eels. You shouldn’t be there. In 2015, the Parks Department installed an eel ladder to help American eels cross East 182nd Street Dam and recolonize the Bronx River, but Dom says they’re not native to Prospect Park, and according to the Prospect Park Alliance, they most certainly weren’t kept in the lake by the Parks Department . (Although this reportfrom 1971 states that a pair may have been thrown in by sponsors of a fishing contest.) Dom was furious at what he saw as a damaging act. In a video Captured during the event, Dom confronts the Eelbringer, to no avail, and begs him to stop before observing. “You’re corrupt, dude,” he seethes.
The old heads who have always come to hunt the sea bass have seen fewer and fewer fish in recent years, and Dom is sure this is due to the deposition of invasive species. “It’s what’s messing up the entire ecosystem,” he says. “The eels populate like rabbits and eat everything. So they steal from the local fish.”
He suspects the eels came from a pet store aquarium, one he often sees in his neighborhood. Maybe something went wrong with the tanks, he suspects, and the eels started dying slowly in the shop, so the eel rescuer went to the park to maybe rescue them. When they were released, they were moving so slowly, he thought, they must have been fighting for a while.
Andrew called the police, who seemed as surprised as he was but were relatively unhelpful. He later called 311, where he was told there was no clear protocol for a complaint about the dumping of live eels in a lake, and handed him back to police.
For their part, Dom and his wife stayed in the park for another two hours and tried to stop a police officer – without success. “There were about three rice wagons with their lights on, but they kept passing us. I waved my arms and wore a white t-shirt under the lights. They could see me and move on,” Dom said. “What if I was really in trouble with something else?”