Officials: Elver season stunted by low temperatures, prices

Posted March 25, 2013, at 6:14 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — The 2013 elver fishing season in Maine has begun with cooler temperatures and cooler prices, according to a state official.

The state’s elver season began Friday on more of a muted note than it did in 2012, Lt. Dale Sprowl of Maine Marine Patrol said Monday. The amount of elvers in Maine’s tidal waterways aren’t as thick as they were a year ago, when there was much less snow than this year and when air temperatures rose above 70 degrees Fahrenheit at the start of the 10-week season, he said. And prices that dealers are offering fishermen, though similar to what they were one year ago, are several hundred dollars lower than the heights they hit at the end of last May.

“They’re a little bit on the spotty side,” Sprowl said of this spring’s elver runs.

Sprowl, who oversees Marine Patrol officers between the St. George River and the Canadian border, said dealers were offering around $1,700 per pound this past weekend. Prices being offered at the start of the 2012 season varied from $1,500 to over $2,000, according to industry officials.

The price of $1,700 per pound may be a lot less than the $2,600 per pound dealers were paying at the end of last May, but it is still a lot. Prices rose sharply in 2011, after a March 2011 tsunami in Japan wiped out stocks of adults eels being cultivated for the Asian seafood market. The average price fishermen got for juvenile eels in 2010 was $185 per pound, but a year later it had risen to nearly $900.

Sprowl said his officers have not been as busy as this season as they were going into elver season last year, when Marine Patrol had its hands full pursuing poachers who were drawn by high prices and large volumes of the small clear or “glass” eels. Poaching has been less of an issue so far in 2012, he said, but more elvers are expected to show up as temperatures rise.

“If they’re not seeing eels…,” Sprowl said, letting the thought trail off. “We expect things to pick up.”

The warm weather and high prices also contributed to a high volume of elver landings in 2012. Maine elver fishermen caught more than 19,000 pounds of elvers last year, the first time more than 10,000 pounds had been caught in any year since 1998.

Before this season ends, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission plans to hold public meetings on whether to adopt tighter fishing restrictions for all life stages of the American eel, which include the young elver stage. A stock assessment last year of the eels’ population determined that the species is depleted in American waters, according to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

Two of the three-hour meetings will be held on Monday, April 15 — at 9 a.m. at Ellsworth City Hall and then at 2 p.m. at the University of Maine at Machias. A third meeting will be held at 1 p.m. Friday, April 19, at the Log Cabin meeting house in Yarmouth.

Separate from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission process, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is considering listing American eels under the federal Endangered Species Act, which could result in a ban on all American eel fishing.

Terry Stockwell, director of external affairs for DMR, said Monday that the commission also is considering closing the fishery down or establishing a yet-unspecified quota for the volume of eels that can be harvested. Maine and South Carolina are the only two states that allow elver harvesting, but several states along the Atlantic coast (including Maine) allow fishing for “yellow” eels, which are American eels between 2 and 3 years old.

If a quota is adopted, it is expected to set an annual elver harvest limit in Maine that will be significantly lower than 19,000 pounds, Stockwell said.

Stockwell said mandatory reporting of landings for elver fishermen and dealers also is being considered by the interstate commission. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is expected to make a final decision in May, with whatever changes are approved going into effect at a later date.

“It won’t impact this year’s fishery,” Stockwell said, “[but] it’s going to affect every jurisdiction on the East Coast.”

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