Eel hearings to be held in Augusta

Posted April 09, 2013, at 6:24 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Three Maine hearings on interstate management measures for the American eel have been consolidated into one.

The hearings had been scheduled by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to take place this month in Ellsworth, Machias and Yarmouth. Now, the hearings have been consolidated into one that will take place at the Augusta Armory from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 30.

What sort of new eel management measures may be adopted by ASMFC has taken on urgency in Maine as the value of the state’s elver fishery has skyrocketed in the past few years. Elvers are juvenile American eels.

The total value of Maine’s elver catch in 2010 was $584,000, but in 2012 it totaled nearly $38 million. During that same time period, the total volume of Maine’s elver harvest increased from 3,100 pounds to more than 19,000 pounds.

A stock assessment last year of the eels’ population determined that the species is depleted in American waters, according to ASMFC. Fisheries for elvers and other life stages of the same species, including “yellow” and “silver” eels, could be affected by new management measures that may be put in place. Fisheries for other life stages of American eels exist in several other East Coast states but Maine is one of only two states, the other being South Carolina, that allows fishing for elvers.

Officials with Maine Department of Marine Resources have said that ASMFC is limiting how many elver licenses the state can issue. ASMFC restrictions allow no more than 744 licenses to be issued throughout the state, DMR officials have said. DMR has issued 432 this year.

State officials have been publicly feuding with the Passamaquoddy Tribe, which traditionally has not been limited in the number of elver licenses it can issue to its members, over how many elver licenses the tribe has issued.

Emergency legislation passed last month limited the tribe to 200 licenses, but the tribe has issued 575 for the 2013 elver fishing season, which runs each spring from March 22 through the end of May.

State officials say the tribe has put Maine out of compliance with ASMFC regulations by issuing 575 licenses. Members of the tribe have said that they will close their elver fishery when they reach a 3,600-pound cumulative catch limit, which will not harm the resource, no matter how many licenses they issue.

The range of options for the various American eel fisheries include maintaining the status quo, setting quotas, implementing other catch restrictions or even prohibiting elver fishing, according to ASMFC.

The commission will accept public comment on possible changes to the American eel fishery management plan through Thursday, May 2, 2013. Information on current and potential management practices, and about how to submit comments, can be found online at www.asmfc.org.

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