The state of Maine, U.S.A., has surpassed USD 21 million (EUR 17.8 million) in total value for its elver fishery as the price-per-pound for the baby eels remains at an average of almost USD 2,400 (EUR 2,000).
The season, which kicked off on 22 March, still has time to increase that total before its closure on 7 June. However, 2018 is already proving to be a banner year for the fishery, as the season opened to record high prices that continued to stay elevated.
Those prices were attributed to a number of factors, including reports of low catch totals of japonica eels – the variety caught in Japan – and the complete ban on all exports of European Eels. The European Union recently began an evaluation of its EU Eel Regulation to determine the next step in conservation.
The high prices resulted in extensive smuggling of the baby eels in Europe. Recently, a smuggling ring in Spain was busted after smuggling an estimated EUR 37 million (USD 44 million) worth of the baby eels in an elaborate setup. Maine has had its own smuggling problem in the past, and recently doled out prison time for a well-known smuggler.
The only state in the United States to have any significant fishery for elvers, Maine instituted quotas and anti-poaching measures after foreign interest in the small eels led to record prices and increasing pressures on the fishery. To reduce poaching, special “swipe cards,” which are Elver transaction cards, are tracked by the Maine Department of Marine Resources to ensure that individuals fishing for the eels can’t catch more than their allotted quota, which varies depending on the license holder. Both dealers and fishermen get a card, and detailed records are kept of the purchase and sale of the eels. Dealers are not allowed to purchase elvers from anyone who doesn’t have a card.
“That’s great for the species and the fisheries, because without accurate knowledge of what’s being caught and shipped and moved, how do you really know what the population densities are?” said Maine House Representative Jeffrey Pierce, (R-Dresden), who serves as the state’s consultant on the elver industry.
In addition to the anti-poaching measures, a quota was instituted in 2014, setting a statewide catch limit of 9,688 pounds. That limit is distributed between the state and four of Maine’s Native American tribes: The Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot.
Despite fishermen reporting a slow start due to cold water, this season may prove to be one of the first to get close to the 9,688 pound quota. Currently, a total of 8,942 pounds of elvers have been harvested, according to preliminary reports by the Maine Department of Marine Resources; 745 pounds remain in the quota.