Regulators keeping Maine elver fishery quota flat

Maine’s elver, or glass eel, fishery has grown to be the state’s second-most valuable fishery
A white bowl filled with elvers, also known as glass eels.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASFMC) is planning to maintain the same quota in the Maine elver fishery for at least the next few years, even as preliminary data indicates an abundance of the eels.

Maine’s elver, or glass eel, fishery has grown to be the state’s second-most valuable fishery, earning USD 20.1 million (EUR 18.7 million) in 2022 and USD 19.3 million (EUR 18.1 million) in 2023, with an average price per pound of USD 2,031 (EUR 1,894). Each year, the fishery has a quota of 9,688 pounds. 

That quota stems from a “gold rush” period in 2012 and 2013, when values for the small eels spiked and fishermen caught significantly more elvers than at any other time in the fishery’s history. In 2012, fishermen landed 21,611 pounds of elvers with a value of over USD 40 million (EUR 37 million), which, adjusted for inflation, is USD 52 million (EUR 48 million) today. The next year, fishermen caught over 18,000 pounds worth almost USD 33 million (EUR 30 million). 

That spike in value, an ASMFC draft addendum on the future quota states, brought with it poaching problems that “most thought Maine could not overcome.”

The Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) responded with a new voluntary harvest reduction in 2013 and set a quota of 11,749 pounds – a 35 percent reduction from the 18,000-pound figure caught in 2013. Then, in 2014, the quota was cut another 11 percent to the 9,688-pound value that the Maine DMR has maintained to this day.

The ASMFC has considered whether to cut the quota by another 21.8 percent but ultimately decided to take that option off the table. Its current draft of the new regulations maintains the quota at 9,688 pounds and could do so for as little as three years or as long as indefinitely.

The plan to keep the quota the same comes as recent stock assessments have shown the elver population is robust, though the American eel stock is depleted and has likely been experiencing overfishing in the last few decades. That stock assessment relates to adult eels and did not provide recommendations for the glass eel harvest.

Monitoring of elvers showed a high level of abundance compared to previous years. In 2022, surveys caught nearly 1 million elvers, which “far exceeded any previous catches and was more than seven times the average,” the draft addendum said. Preliminary data from 2023 showed a lower total of just over 300,000 elvers, which the addendum said continues a trend where five of the last seven survey years significantly exceeded the average annual catch since 2001. 

Regardless of the survey results, the latest addendum being considered – Addendum VI – is slated to keep the quota the same for the 425 state-issued license holders in Maine; 16 of those licenses are now up for grabs.

The Maine DMR announced on 8 February that 16 Maine residents will have a chance to join the fishery by applying for a lottery that will be available through 4 March 2024. The winners of the lottery get the chance to apply for a license prior to the upcoming season.

Maine residents looking to apply need to be at least 15 years of age prior to the start of the 2024 elver season – which will run from 22 March through 7 June – and must not have had their right to obtain a license suspended. Each individual is allowed to submit five applications at a cost of USD 35.00 (EUR 32.65) per application.

“Each new license holder will receive a minimum of four pounds of quota, which is made available from individual quota associated with licenses that were not renewed,” the Maine DMR said.

An open lottery for elver licenses typically attracts thousands of applicants. In 2020, the Maine DMR opened a lottery for nine licenses and received more than 3,600 applications.  

Photo courtesy of Joyce Godsey/Shutterstock


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