PORTLAND, Maine — Tiny baby eels are worth big bucks again in Maine.
The state is home to the only significant fishery for the baby eels, which are called elvers, and it’s taking place right now. Prices tanked last year due to disruption to the worldwide economy caused by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
This year, the fishery is experiencing a return to normalcy. The tiny, wriggling fish are worth $1,632 per pound to fishermen, the Maine Department of Marine Resources reported on April 18.
The elvers are worth so much because of the crucial role they play in Asian aquaculture. They’ve been worth between $1,300 and $2,400 per pound every year since 2015, except last year, when they were worth $525.
The elver business has benefited from improved health in international trading at large, said Mitchell Feigenbaum, an elver dealer.
“There’s confidence in the market in all commodities right now,” Feigenbaum said “There’s a crazy boom in real estate, a crazy boom in the stock market, a crazy boom in the eel market.”
The elver fishing season takes place in rivers and streams every spring in Maine. The eels are sold to Asian aquaculture companies that use them as seed stock so they can be raised to maturity and used as food.
The eels are eventually used in Japanese dishes such as kabayaki, a skewered, grilled eel fillet. Some eventually return to the United States for use in sushi restaurants.
The eel fishery is subject to a strict quota system, and this year’s mild spring has allowed fishermen to run through it fairly quickly. Fishermen are allowed no more than 9,620 pounds of elvers for the entire fishery for the year.
They’d already caught more than 5,500 pounds by April 18, the marine resources department reported. The fishery ends in early June or as soon as the quota is exhausted, whichever comes first.
The improved prices are a boon to the industry after a frustrating 2020, said Darrell Young, co-director of the Maine Elver Fishermen Association.
“It definitely makes life easier, the money does,” Young said.
Patrick Whittle, The Associated Press