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April 10, 2018

Elver run looks good, prices up over last year

File Photo / David Clough
File Photo / David Clough
Patricia and Paul Bryant, involved in the elver fishery since the 1970s, tend their nets during a dawn trip to favorable river spots in Bristol in this Mainebiz file photo. Last year, Maine elver harvesters caught 9,282 pounds of baby eels this season, with a reported value of $12.09 million. This year's season is off to a good start.

Since the start of the elver season on March 22, the spring run has been picking up and landings are looking good.

The Ellsworth American reported that dealers paid an average price of $2,747 per pound the first week of the harvest for elvers, which are bought by eel farmers in Asia.

Elvers are by far Maine's most valuable fishery per pound, but the catch is limited by a quota, so in terms of sales revenues it's one of the least valuable in the state.

According to the Maine Department of Marine Resources, elver landings among non-native harvesters reported as of 6 p.m. on April 7 totaled 581.7 pounds out of an overall quota of 7,566.3 pounds.

The Maliseet have an overall quota of 106.6 pounds, but their landings are confidential.

The Micmac reported 7.6 pounds caught out of their overall quota of 38.8 pounds.

The Passamaquoddy reported 511.7 pounds caught out of their overall quota of 1,356.3 pounds.

And the Penobscot reported 49.3 pounds caught out of their overall quota of 620 pounds.

That comes to a quota total of 1,150.2 pounds caught, out of a statewide quota of 9,688 pounds.

Dealers reported buying a total of 1,150.2 pounds with a reported value of $2.8 million for average price per pound of $2,443.

It's expected that Maine's elver quota could jump 18%, pending approval by the American eel management board of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

In February, the Bangor Daily News reported that a draft amendment to the ASMFC's eel management plan includes the option of increasing Maine's yearly elver harvest to 11,479 pounds, up from the current statewide quota of 9,688 pounds. The quota would go into effect for the 2019 fishing season. The increase could mean an additional $2.6 million in revenue for the Maine elver fishery, which harvested over $12 million worth of the baby eels in 2017. The 9,688-pound quota for the 2018 season was established in 2014.

In 2017, harvesters were paid an average price of $1,431 per pound.

According to the ASFMC, the quota change is being considered as part of the eel board's American Eel Draft Addendum V, in October 2017 in response to concerns over the management program as specified in Addendum IV. The draft addendum also proposes changes to the aquaculture provisions of the plan, with an option that would allow contiguously bordered states to pool their 200-pound glass eel aquaculture allowance, up to a maximum of 600 pounds. Hearings on the draft addendum, expected to be held from Maine to Florida, haven't been scheduled yet.

In late March, Maine Public reported that the price of elvers in the first few days of the season — just over $2,800 a pound — were the highest ever for the fishery. The previous height was reported in 2015, at just under $2,200 a pound. Maine has the only significant fishery for the young eels. Elvers are by far Maine's most valuable fishery by pound, but the elver catch is limited by a quota, so in absolute terms it's one of the least valuable in the state.

The season continues until June 7, or until the quota is met.

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