Maine's elver fishermen will have the same quota next spring when they fish for the valuable baby eels.
The fishermen are dealing with fluctuating volume and value in a fishery that exploded in interest early this decade. Elvers are sold to Asian aquaculture companies that raise them to maturity and use them as food, including sushi. Maine's fishery for elvers is by far the biggest in the country, and the eels have become more valuable in recent years largely because of a sharp decline in their population across Europe in the 1990s.
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The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which manages elver fishing, met earlier this month to discuss the fishery. There was no discussion of the possibility of changing the quota, which will remain in effect through 2017, when it will be reevaluated, a spokeswoman said.
The quota system and Maine's swipe card tracking system have been valuable tools to manage the fishery, said David Allen, a member of the commission's American Eel Advisory Panel.
"It's been pretty darn successful in terms of cutting back on our biggest concern, which was poaching," Allen said. "When you have something out there that's worth $1,800 or $2,000 a pound, the incentive to poach is just huge."
The state set records in 2012 with fishermen catching more than 21,000 pounds of elvers worth more than $40 million. Ten years earlier the elvers were worth less than $30 per pound. The surge prompted overfishing fears.
Regulators instituted a 9,688-pound quota for the 2015 fishing year, and fishermen fell short of it at 5,242 pounds. The eels were also worth a record of $2,172 per pound in 2015, in part because of the lower supply. The 9,688-pound quota will be in effect when the fishery starts up again next year.
Jeffrey Pierce, an adviser to the Maine Elver Fishermen's Association, said many elver fishermen think the quota could be higher and intend to push for a greater allowance when regulators reevaluate the fishery.
"It's a really great fishery for Maine," he said. "We're hoping to advocate for a higher quota in the next round of quota talks."