PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Maine's money-making elvers fishery, the only significant fishery in the U.S. for the baby eels, is having a much stronger year as favorable weather has allowed fishermen to capture their quarry.
Elvers are sold to Asian aquaculture companies and eventually become food, such as sushi. Much sought-after, they sometimes sell for more than $2,000 per pound, putting them among the most lucrative commercial fish species in the country.
Last year, fishermen caught less than 5,300 pounds of them against a quota of nearly 10,000 pounds. Fishermen, who seek the eels with nets in Maine's rivers from late March to early June, have already caught more than last year's entire catch.
"For us, it's going well," said Henry Bear, an elver fisherman on the Passagassawakeag River in Waldo County and the Maliseet tribal representative to the Maine House of Representatives. "Far more productive, and the fish are running good."
Last year's fishery was impeded by the lingering harsh winter weather. Fishermen this year have already caught more than 5,500 pounds, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources.
The price per pound has dropped from about $2,172 last year to $1,364 so far this year. The soft economy in China, a major buyer, has depressed prices somewhat.
But Kent Bowley, a Portland elver dealer, said prices have crept up to about $1,500 in recent weeks and the total value of the fishery will likely be much more than last year because of the increased catch.
Jeffrey Pierce, a state legislator and an adviser to the Maine Elver Fishermen Association, said he expects fishermen to catch their entire quota by the middle of May. The season lasts until June 7.
"They should be on target," he said. "That's great news."