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January 22, 2019

Planning Board approves eel-growing operation in Waldoboro

Courtesy / American Unagi
Courtesy / American Unagi
Seen here are fyke nets that are set for the harvest of baby eels.

An operation that grows market-size product from baby eels — called elvers or glass eels — received approval from the town's Planning Board to build a facility at the Waldoboro Business Park.

Lincoln County News reported that the Waldoboro Planning Board, at its Jan. 9 meeting, approved American Unagi LLC's application to build a 27,000-square-foot facility, pending Maine Department of Environmental Protection permits for the stormwater management and water discharge. Sara Rademaker, the company's president, told the board the business "is a way to keep value in the United States and to grow a safer and higher-value product for consumers."

Maine is at the heart of the East Coast elver fishery and one of only two states, along with South Carolina, that are allowed to harvest the baby eels. In recent years, elver harvesters have earned anywhere from $900 to $2,600 per pound, thanks to demand in Asia.

According to American Unagi's website, traditionally Maine's glass eels are exported to Asia to be grown. Several years later, market-size eels are imported back to the U.S., after being raised in unknown conditions.

"American Unagi eels are sourced exclusively from Maine's well-managed fishery, raised in land-based aquaculture systems located on the coast of Maine, and our eels are fed a high-quality diet without the use of hormones or antibiotics," the website says. "American Unagi is providing our customers with a traceable, safer and, ultimately, more sustainable eel choice than what exists on the market."

Rademaker officially started the business in 2014, raising a handful of eels in her basement. She expanded to a pilot facility a year later. The pilot facility is now at capacity, the website says.

Other tenants at the business park include a specialty fertilizer business, rope-braiding business, carpet pad business and boat interiors business, according to the park's website. The 60-acre park is located two miles off U.S. Route 1 in Waldoboro.

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