For the first time since 2013, state officials will allow new fishermen into the lucrative baby eel fishery.

The Maine Department of Marine Resources says it plans to hold a lottery to issue at least seven new licenses to harvest baby eels, or elvers, in 2018. The last time DMR issued new licenses in the fishery was in February 2013.

The state started accepting lottery applications at noon on Wednesday.

For the past four years, the fishery has generated between $8 million and $13.4 million in gross statewide annual revenue for Maine’s approximately 1,000 licensed fishermen, which includes members of Maine’s native Indian tribes. During that time, the average annual statewide price offered to fishermen has ranged from $874 to $2,171 per pound.

Each new license holder will be allowed to harvest at least four pounds of elvers during the 2018 season, which is scheduled to begin in late March. Based on 2017 prices, when Maine fishermen were paid on average just above $1,300 per pound, four pounds of elvers could amount to nearly $6,000 in income, DMR officials said.

The vast majority of elvers harvested in Maine are shipped to east Asia, where they are raised in aquaculture ponds for the region’s voracious seafood market.

“Maine’s elver fishery is by far the most valuable on a per-pound basis,” DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher said in a prepared statement. “We’re pleased to be able to provide [a] new opportunity for commercial fishing in Maine, or perhaps a chance for an existing fisherman [in another fishery] to diversify.”

More than seven licenses could be awarded through the lottery if one or more fishermen who currently hold an elver license decide not to renew it, DMR officials said.

Applicants must be Maine residents at least 15 years old when the 2018 season starts on March 22, and not have had their right to obtain an elver license suspended.

By law, each individual can submit up to five applications for the lottery at a cost of $35 per application, DMR officials said. Those who submit applications online will incur an additional processing fee of $2 per application.

Of the $35 the application fee, $25 will go to a fund designated for research and management of Maine’s eel and elver resources, to enforce laws related to eels and elvers, and to cover the costs associated with determining the eligibility of applicants for elver fishing licenses. The remaining $10 of each application fee will cover costs associated with administering the lottery. The statewide annual quota for elvers has been capped at 9,688 pounds for each of the past three seasons, which end each year in early June. But Maine’s cumulative catch total has fallen short of that limit each year.

Since the most recent license lottery was held in 2013, the state has evenly divided and redistributed excess quota made available by licenses being suspended or not being renewed to other licensed elver fishermen.

The state has not announced a date for the lottery drawing, but said lottery winners will have to submit additional paperwork by March 1 to get their license.

DMR will not accept lottery applications through the mail. People can enter the lottery online at or apply in person by filling out a paper application at the DMR offices in Augusta. Online lottery applications must be submitted by 5 p.m. Jan. 15, 2018. Paper applications must be delivered to the DMR Augusta office by 4:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 12. More information can be found online or by calling DMR at (207) 624-6550.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....