PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Federal regulators have cut Maine fishermen's quota for elvers by nearly 18 percent to allow the stock of the lucrative baby eels to rebuild.
The move came Monday after a federal panel had recommended a quota of 9,688 pounds of elvers for next year. That's a reduction from 11,749 pounds this year, the first year a quota was imposed, regulators said.
Prices for elvers topped $1,800 per pound in 2012 and 2013, and fishermen reported prices between $500 and $1,000 per pound this year. Prices per pound never topped $350 from 1994 to 2010. Catch also ballooned to more than 18,000 pounds in 2012 and 2013, topping 10,000 for the first time since 1998, prompting fears of overfishing.
Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's American Eel Management Board approved the new quota at a meeting in Mystic, Connecticut. Kate Taylor, the commission's eel fishery management plan coordinator, said the new quota will protect Maine's economic interests and help the stock rebuild.
Elvers, also called glass eels, are sold overseas as seed stock for aquaculture companies in Asia that raise them to maturity and sell them as food.
Many elver fishermen in the state opposed the quota cut. Fishermen have showed dedication to preserving the fishery by participating in a swipe card system to prevent poaching, said Jeffrey Pierce, director of the Maine Elver Fishermen's Association.
"We've done a tremendous amount of work to bring this elver fishery into compliance and they cut us back again," Pierce said.
Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher said the state would have preferred the status quo, but the quota cut "represents a better scenario than originally envisioned as we headed into last season."
The elver board also voted to allow other East Coast states to begin elver fisheries if they create an approved conservation program. States will be allowed to also harvest elvers for domestic aquaculture under certain conditions. Currently Maine and South Carolina are the only states with elver fisheries, and Maine's is much larger.