BREWER, Maine — A meeting at which state officials hope to get feedback on how to reduce next spring’s annual elver harvest has been rescheduled for Thursday, Jan. 2, at a local function hall.
The meeting originally had been scheduled to take place Dec. 9, but it was postponed due to bad weather. It will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Thursday at Jeff’s Catering at 15 Littlefield Way, off Parkway South.
The purpose of the meeting is for Maine Department of Marine Resources officials to talk to elver fishermen and dealers about landings reductions that have been mandated by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. The commission has told Maine that it must reduce its 2014 elver landings total by 25 to 40 percent from the 2013 harvest total.
DMR already held one meeting on the subject on Dec. 9 in Augusta. Some attendees argued for holding a derby-style fishery, in which any licensed fishermen could catch as much as they want until a statewide quota had been reached, while others suggested imposing individual quotas based upon each fisherman’s catch history.
Industry and state officials have said that individual quotas would have one benefit in that they would strongly discourage licensed fishermen from selling someone else’s illegal catch in exchange for a share of the proceeds. Instead, because of the limit on what they could catch and sell, licensed fishermen would have a strong economic incentive to sell only what they catch and not for anyone else.
The 18,253-pound statewide catch total in 2013 is the second-highest in the past 20 years, according to statistics posted online by DMR. The highest annual landings total in that period was in 2012, when elver fishermen in Maine caught 20,764 pounds of the juvenile American eels.
The prices fishermen have been paid for elvers have skyrocketed since 2011 — at times rising to more than $2,000 per pound — because of increased demand in Asia in the wake of a tsunami that wiped out eel stocks in aquaculture ponds in coastal Japan. Maine fishermen were paid an average price of $185 per pound in 2010, when the total value of the statewide catch was $585,000. In 2012, fishermen on average were paid more than $1,800 per pound and the total value of the statewide catch was more than $38 million, making it the second-most valuable fishery in Maine behind lobster.
According to fishermen and dealers, prices elver fishermen received for their catch this past spring settled around $1,500 to $1,700 per pound.
Elvers, also known as glass eels, are born in the Atlantic Ocean each spring and migrate to shore and into freshwater rivers, streams and lakes along the East Coast. The mandated reduction in Maine’s harvest has been spurred by concerns about declines in the population of American eels along the East Coast.
Maine and South Carolina are the only two states that allow elver fishing. Several hundred licenses are issued each spring in Maine, though DMR and the Passamaquoddy Tribe continue to disagree on the number of licenses that the tribe can issue. South Carolina issues only 10 licenses each year.
Maine’s annual 10-week elver season begins each year on March 22.