ELLSWORTH, Maine — The overall catch volume may have declined this year, but the value of Maine’s annual elver fishery rose by nearly $3 million over last year’s total, according to state officials.
It also resulted in the highest-ever average price that fishermen earned for their catch, which made up for the reduced landings.
The Maine Department of Marine Resources indicated Tuesday in a prepared statement that the total value of elvers caught in Maine during the annual 10-week season, which ended last week, was $11,389,864. The total value of the 2014 catch was $8,474,302, about $2.9 million less than the latest tally.
The cumulative statewide volume of 5,242 pounds was a little more than half of the 9,688 total pounds that Maine fishermen caught last year. Some fishermen described this year’s volume as “horrible.” But the average price more than doubled, from $874 per pound in 2014 to $2,172 per pound this year, which helped boost the overall value of the fishery.
The previous highest average price was in 2012, when fishermen earned $1,869 per pound over the course of the season. A high statewide landing total that year of more than 21,000 pounds — before the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission imposed a cap on Maine’s elver landings — resulted in the fishery generating $40.3 million in gross income for Maine fishermen.
In 2013, Maine fishermen caught 18,000 pounds of elvers and were paid nearly $33 million for the statewide haul.
Though the volume of elvers caught each year in Maine has fallen sharply in each of the past two years, DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher said in the prepared statement that the 2015 elver season should be considered a success.
After implementing a mandatory electronic sales monitoring system for fishermen last year, this year the state required dealers to do the same thing when they sold elvers to each other and introduced a new mandatory elver exporter license. These measures, according to Keliher, have helped the state keep better track of landings as they occur, which helps prevent Maine from exceeding the statewide catch limit and to conserve the resource.
The low temperatures, Keliher added, were beyond the state’s control.
“The cold spring depressed the migration of elvers,” he said. “The spring was also extremely dry and levels in Maine’s streams and rivers were low.”
The low water levels meant elvers most commonly swam in the middle of rivers and streams, where fishing is not allowed, the commissioner added.
Maine and South Carolina are the only two states that allow fishing for elvers, which are juvenile American eels, and Maine’s fishery is much larger than South Carolina’s. Concerns about the health of eel stocks have led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider listing the eels under the Endangered Species Act.
Nonetheless, demand in Asia — where the elvers are raised to adult stage and then sold into the region’s seafood market — has soared since 2011, helping to push up the price dramatically. Between 1994 and 2010, the highest average price for their catch that Maine elver fishermen received in any year was $346 per pound in 2007.