ELLSWORTH, Maine — The official 2015 elver season is expected to get under way on Sunday, but that doesn’t mean actual fishing will start that day, and may not for a while.
As it did in 2014, lingering cold weather is expected to delay the arrival of the young American eels as they swim north along the coast from the open Atlantic ocean.
Darrel Young, president of the Maine Elver Fishermen’s Association, said Friday that because of low temperatures in the early part of last spring, he did not catch his first elver until the end of April.
“I don’t think I’m going to catch one until then this year, either,” Young said. “ Last year was really quiet.”
Young, who lives in Waltham and fishes in the Hancock County area, said that the best elver fishing occurs at night when the tide is high and when temperatures are mild. With those factors in mind, he estimated that there will be only about 20 days of good fishing before the season ends on May 31.
“It’s frozen up worse than it was last year,” he said of the water near shore. “More than likely, the eels are going to run in June. We’re apt to miss them.”
The 2014 elver season was much more sedate compared to prior seasons, for a variety of reasons. Unusually warm springs in 2012 and 2013, when licensed fishermen had no catch limit, resulted in elvers showing up in tidal waterways in large numbers before the season opened.
The warm springs and lack of catch limits coincided with high demand in Asia for the baby eels, which pushed prices fishermen got for their catch up to unprecedented heights, at times surpassing $2,000 per pound. The statewide haul of elvers in 2012 was 21,611 pounds, giving the fishery a value of $40 million — five times higher than it ever had been. In 2013, the statewide harvest was worth nearly $33 million.
Concerns about poaching and the dwindling population of American eels led regulators in 2014 to set an overall cap on Maine’s elver harvest and to implement individual quotas for fishermen. Those limits, the colder weather and tighter monitoring controls on each fisherman’s catch resulted in a total statewide harvest of 9,690 pounds last year, for which Maine fishermen cumulatively earned $8.4 million.
The statewide cap for the 2015 elver season has been set at 9,688 pounds. The season is expected to end when that statewide quota is reached or on May 31, whichever comes first.