Concerns about potential cuts to the Maine elver fishery quota system have caused the regulatory board to discuss releasing a plan to maintain the quota. These baby eels are worth more than $2000 per pound and are likely the most valuable fish in the United States on a per-pound basis. This species is vital to the worldwide supply chain for Japanese cuisine. They are typically sold as seed stock to Asian aquaculture companies to be raised to full maturity and processed into a food source.

Elvers are caught in rivers using nets, and Maine is the only state with a lucrative catch. The state's rivers and streams are indeed the only home for a significant commercial-scale baby American eel fishing industry. South Carolina is the only other state with a commercial industry for these baby eels. However, it’s on a much smaller scale than Maine. Overfishing elvers is a criminal offense in Maine, and the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) has strictly enforced the regulations of this species quota system.

The Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) manages the baby eel fishing industry and other fisheries. According to an article from Fox News, the board voted unanimously to consider raising the total annual quota of slightly less than 10,000 pounds of elvers that has been in place for nearly a decade.

Darrel Young, president of the Maine Elver Association, told Fox that fishermen have been good stewards of Maine rivers, working to remove dams and improve habitats.

“We always known we could have more. We think there are plenty of eels,” Young shared.

In August 2023, the Commission’s American eel management board voted to study the issue and potential changes to the quota in 2025 due to the 9,688-pound quota expiring in 2024. Recently, the board released a plan to keep the quota at its current level, and it is scheduled to vote on a new quota system for the fishery on May 1.

Fishermen who have spent years ensuring the sustainability of the fishery are pushing for approval. Regarding the quota, Young stated, “They should do that because we’ve done everything they’ve asked, above and beyond.”

The quota remaining at its current levels shows “strong management measures we’ve instituted here in Maine,” said Patrick Keliher, commissioner of the Maine DMR. A quota cut could mean a loss of millions of dollars in income for this Maine fishery.

The Maine elver fishery has been active for decades, but it blew up in early 2010 due to foreign sources drying up. The season in Maine begins next week, and licensed fishermen will set up their nets in the pre-dawn hours to catch this lucrative species. Over 4,500 individuals applied for the lottery of 16 available licenses in Maine alone. The winners are:

  • Deborah Reed - Mount Desert
  • Mark Olsen - North Yarmouth
  • Dwight Holbrook - Phippsburg
  • Ryan Collin - Stonington
  • Clifford Johnson - Jonesport
  • Donald Bradbury - Milbridge
  • Jonathan Achorn - Friendship
  • Rosalie Robidoux - Ellsworth
  • Adam Butman - Spruce Head
  • Cooper Deraps - Ellsworth
  • Dale Damon - South Thomaston
  • Scott Lorfano - Gorham
  • Arron Larrabee - Blue Hill                     
  • Wade Wallace - Jonesport
  • Patrick Gray - Sedgwick
  • Melissa Dana – Perry

The legislature set a cap of 425 state-issued licenses when the lottery was established. The 16 available licenses resulted from licenses not renewed in 2022 and 2023. Each winner can choose either a dip net or a fyke net for harvesting.

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Carli is a Content Specialist for National Fisherman. She comes from a fourth-generation fishing family off the coast of Maine. Her background consists of growing her own business within the marine community. She resides on one of the islands off the coast of Maine while also supporting the lobster community she grew up in.

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