In this May 25, 2017 photo, baby eels swim in a bucket after being caught near Brewer, Maine. A proposal to allow to increase Maine’s annual catch limit of baby eels will aired at two public hearings next month. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

BREWER, Maine — A proposal to allow an increase in Maine’s annual catch limit of baby eels will be aired at two public hearings in the state next month.

Fishermen harvest elvers in Maine rivers and streams each spring and then sell them to Asian aquaculture companies that raise them to maturity for the region’s seafood market. Fishermen in Maine, which is the only state in the country with a significant fishery for elvers, are limited to 9,688 pounds per year.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is considering increasing that total to 11,749 pounds per year, which was the statewide catch limit in 2014 before it was reduced to the current level. Elvers currently are worth more than $2,500 per pound at docks, which would mean the increase could raise the value of Maine’s annual harvest by millions of dollars.

The highest season-long, per pound average price for elvers in Maine was $2,171 in 2015, when a relatively cold spring resulted in fishermen catching only 5,260 pounds for the season. Elver landings in Maine that year had a total value of $11.4 million.

The most lucrative years for Maine’s elver fishery occurred in 2012 and 2013, when there was no regulatory limit on how many elvers fishermen could catch. Maine fishermen caught $40 million worth of juvenile eels in 2012 and $33 million worth the following year.

If the average price paid to fishermen for the 2018 season stays above $2,500, and if fishermen reach the statewide catch limit, the value of Maine’s 2018 elver landings would total at least $24 million.

The hearings are set for 3 p.m., June 6 at Jeff’s Catering in Brewer and at 3 p.m., June 7 at the Maine Department of Marine Resources offices at 32 Blossom Lane in Augusta.

BDN reporter Bill Trotter contributed to this report.