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May 24, 2018

State shuts down elver season two weeks early due to illegal sales

Photo / David Clough, Mainebiz archives
Photo / David Clough, Mainebiz archives
Patricia and Paul Bryant have been involved in the elver fishery since the 1970s. In this 2016 file photo from the Mainebiz archives, they tend their nets during a dawn trip to favorable river spots in Bristol.

Illegal sales of elvers led to an early shut-down of the fishery, effective today, and could jeopardize the future of the lucrative fishery, the Maine Department of Marine Resources stated in a news release on Wednesday.

The state's overall quota is set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and individual quotas, which add up to the overall quota, are established by the state.

According to the DMR news release, the value and weight of the illegally harvested and sold elvers were not recorded with the swipe card system and not accounted for in the DMR's quota management system.

"We clearly have to consider additional measures to ensure that Maine can remain compliant with ASMFC, that we can continue to protect our state's valuable marine resources, and that we can hold accountable anyone who chooses to squander the opportunity those resources represent," DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher said.

The DMR announced it would shut down the elver fishery two weeks early, as of 6 a.m. this morning.

The closure was done through emergency rulemaking, with DMR stating the illegal sales jeopardize its ability to manage the fishery.

An investigation by the Maine Marine Patrol revealed that some Maine elver dealers were paying a cash amount that was substantially less than the per pound price for elvers that were harvested and accounted for through the state's swipe card system.

Investigation: Illegal sales skirted state's monitoring system

Photo / David Clough
Photo / David Clough
DMR shut down the elver season two weeks early due to illegal sales.

The investigation is ongoing and charges will be filed against dealers and harvesters who bought and sold elvers without using the state's swipe card system.

The swipe card system records the weight and value of each sale, allowing the state to ensure that harvesting does not exceed individual and overall state quotas.

The swipe card system was established in 2014 to allow the DMR to obtain accurate, timely information on the amount of elvers landed and sold in Maine.

"This is a fishery that stood to net Maine license holders nearly $24 million this year, and now because of the greed of some dealers and harvesters, I am obligated to cut that opportunity short," Keliher said.

As of May 22, 9,090.629 pounds of the state's 9,688-pound quota had been sold legally, using the swipe card system.

"We believe that if the illegal sales had been recorded, the 2018 elver quota would have already been exceeded," said Keliher.

Earlier this month, Maine's small-but-lucrative elver fishery was on pace to set a new record. The Ellsworth American reported the average price per pound at that time was $2,593, which would have the fishery's total value at season's end, June 7, at $25 million, more than double the 2017 value of $12.1 million.

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