BANGOR, Maine — For much of the past week, state officials and Passamaquoddy Tribe members have clashed over enforcement of state laws during the season that recently opened.
At issue is how many licenses the tribe, based in Washington County, is allowed to issue to its members. After meetings Wednesday, tribal and state officials said relations had improved, although they would not say what type of resolution was reached.
On Wednesday, tribal officials stressed that if the state is serious about limiting elver poaching, it should look well beyond the Passamaquoddy Tribe.
Statistics released on Thursday by the Maine Department of Marine Resources show that fishermen who are not part of the Passamaquoddy Tribe have accounted for most of the violations that Maine Marine Patrol officers have dealt with.
At the Bangor Daily News’ request, Jeff Nichols, the DMR’s communications director, collected data from the state’s two marine patrol divisions. The data include violations that resulted in summonses between the season’s opening on March 22 and Wednesday, April 3.
Of the 23 summonses for fishing without a license that were issued statewide, just four involved Passamaquoddys, Nichols said.
Nichols said that the DMR’s enforcement territory in Maine consists of two divisions: Division 1 stretches from the St. George River south to Kittery; Division 2 includes marine habitat north of the St. George River all the way to the U.S.-Canada border.
The breakdown of summonses issued by marine patrol officers since the season began:
• 23 total summonses were issued.
• 14 of those were summonses for fishing for elvers without a license.
• Of those fishing without a license, one summons was issued to a Passamaquoddy Tribe member.
• Six summonses were issued for fishing in a fishway, which is defined as being within 150 feet of a dam or a fishway.
• One summons was issued for using a dip net while standing in the water.
• One summons was issued for buying elvers from an unlicensed dealer.
• 12 total summonses were issued.
• Nine of those summonses were written for fishing elvers without a license.
• Of those fishing without a license, three summonses were issued to Passamaquoddy Tribe members.
• Three summonses were issued for fishing during a closed period.
With prices of elvers, or glass eels, surpassing $2,000 a pound, the number of people looking to take part in the fishery — legally or illegally — has risen dramatically over the past two years. According to BDN reports, the price of elvers was just $185 per pound two years ago.
According to Maj. Alan Talbot, deputy chief of the Maine Marine Patrol, violators found guilty of fishing for elvers without a license face a fine of $2,000. And although fishing has been slow so far this year because the beginning of spring has been cold, he said that during the peak of the elver run, it would be possible for a single fisherman to catch 3 or 4 pounds of elvers in a night, which could be worth $6,000 to $8,000.
Much of the public attention over the past week has been on Passamaquoddy elver fishermen, some of whom are fishing while carrying licenses that the state has refused to recognize as valid.
The Passamaquoddys are protesting a bill that was signed into law on March 21, limiting the tribe to 200 elver licenses, with 50 of those permit-holders confined to dip-netting in the St. Croix River. The tribe instead issued 575 elver licenses, prompting the Maine Department of Marine Resources to say it would invalidate all but the first 150 permits that were issued.
Fred Moore III, the Fisheries Committee coordinator for the tribe, has been outspoken in his opinion that the Marine Patrol should focus on all potential enforcement violations, not on finding Passamaquoddys who hold licenses that the tribe considers valid.
“The state of Maine should be focusing on apprehending criminals across the state of Maine rather than coming Down East to manufacture them,” Moore said in a recent BDN story.