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May 3, 2018

Price hits $2,593 a pound for Maine’s highly prized baby eels

Photo / David Clough
Photo / David Clough
If the current average price per pound of $2,593 holds until the end of the season June 7, the fishery’s total value will be $25 million, more than double the 2017 value of $12.1 million.

Maine's small-but-lucrative elver fishery is on pace to set a new record.

The Ellsworth American reported that, if the current average price per pound of $2,593 holds until the end of the season June 7, the fishery's total value will be $25 million, more than double the 2017 value of $12.1 million.

Seafood buyers in Asia have fueled interest in the baby eels, which has created a highly regulated and lucrative fishery in Maine. Once shipped, the eels are cultured and raised to adulthood in the Asian markets — primarily in Japan, China, Taiwan and Korea — and harvested for fish markets, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

According to the May 1 report of the DMR, elver landings as of that date total 5,392 pounds of the overall quota of 9,688 pounds. That leaves 4,295 pounds for the rest of the season.

The DMR in March reported that Maine elver harvesters in 2017 enjoyed a season in which their fishery was by far the most valuable of Maine's fisheries on a per pound basis. Harvesters in 2017 landed 9,343 pounds of the 9,688-pound state quota. At $1,303 a pound, the elver fishery was valued at $12.1 million, the fifth highest per-pound and overall value in the history of the fishery.

This year's elver season began on March 22 and goes until noon on June 7. The fishery's value was signaled earlier this year, when 3,136 individuals applied for a lottery of 11 elver licenses for the 2018 season. It was the first lottery for the fishery since 2013.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is considering an increase to Maine's elver quota. A draft management plan, which will be considered at ASMFC's June meeting, includes an option to increase the quota to 11,749 pounds. Due to an increased desire to bring eels to market, the ASMFC plan also proposes a new option for allowing "up to three contiguously bordered states and jurisdictions would be allowed to pool their harvest of 200 pounds of glass eels up to a maximum of 600 pounds" for use in domestic aquaculture facilities.

The new quota would go into effect for the 2019 fishing season. The 9,688-pound quota was established in 2014.

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