December 15, 2018
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Fishing panel to weigh raising Maine’s baby eel quota

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Baby eels, also known as elvers, are transferred from a tank in the back of a truck to a bucket in Portland in this 2014 file photo. Interstate fishery regulators will vote Tuesday whether to boost Maine's annual elver quota by 1,800 pounds.

An interstate fishing regulator is considering changes to eel fishing restrictions that could include raising Maine’s annual catch quota for baby eels by 18 percent.

The American eel management board of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will meet late Tuesday to consider a draft amendment to its eel management plan, which includes the option of increasing Maine’s yearly harvest limit for baby eels to 11,479 pounds. That limit, which was the statewide catch limit in 2014, would be roughly 1,800 pounds more than the current statewide quota of 9,688 pounds.

The vote Tuesday is on whether the commission should advance the draft amendment to the public-comment phase. Any discussion and subsequent vote on actually increasing Maine’s yearly catch quota would be held later in the year and would not go into effect until the 2019 season.

Since 2012, Maine fishermen on average have earned roughly $1,500 per pound for baby eels, also known as elvers. If Maine’s annual elver harvest limit is increased by 1,800 pounds, it could mean an additional $2.6 million in revenue for Maine fishermen, which would be a 21 percent increase over the 2017 harvest value of $12 million.

Maine’s 2018 elver season is expected to begin in about six weeks.

Prior to 2014, Maine had no annual limit on the number of baby eels fishermen could harvest. The interstate fisheries commission imposed a yearly catch limit of 11,479 pounds after Maine had extraordinarily large harvests of 21,000 pounds in 2012 and 18,000 pounds in 2013.

After Maine elver fishermen caught only 9,690 pounds of elvers in 2014, despite the higher limit, the commission reduced the quota to 9,688 pounds.

About 2,000 baby eels comprise a pound.

Baby eels, also known as elvers, are lucrative in Maine, which is the only state that has a sizeable elver fishery. South Carolina, the only other state that allows elver fishing, caps the number of licenses at 10 and limits its fishery to the Cooper River. Maine has approximately 1,000 licensed elver fishermen, including those licensed by Maine’s Indian tribes.

Elvers are born each spring in the Atlantic Ocean and then migrate to the East Coast to swim upstream into freshwater. The ones caught during the migration are shipped live to East Asia, where they are raised in aquaculture ponds and later harvested for the region’s seafood market.

Restrictions on how many baby eels can be harvested in Maine have been driven by concerns about the number of eels on the East Coast. The commission determined in 2012 that the status of the species is depleted, but in 2015 the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service decided against listing the species under the Endangered Species Act.

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