ELLSWORTH — The 2018 elver fishing season got underway last Thursday, but opinions are divided over how many of the translucent baby eels will head up Maine streams and rivers from the ocean.
Darrell Young, a longtime harvester from Franklin who this year also will buy elvers at a Water Street shop in Ellsworth, said the fishery likely would get a late start because of chilly water temperatures and high stream flows resulting from melting snow on the ground after several recent storms.
“It looks like it will start out a little slow because of snow runoff,” Young said last Monday afternoon.
Jeffrey Pierce, now a state representative but also the former executive director of the Maine Elver Fishermen Association and still an industry consultant, had a different take.
He said the ice was out on most large Maine rivers and that snowstorms don’t affect water temperatures.
“I suspect things will be on time,” Pierce said.
Whenever they do arrive, the elvers are likely to fetch top dollar.
Last year, according to the Department of Marine Resources, Maine elver harvesters landed 9,343 pounds of the 9,688-pound quota set by the state. All told, elver landings were valued at $12,155,672, an average of $1,303 per pound.
This year’s landings could be worth considerably more.
Virtually all of Maine’s elvers are shipped to China, where the eels are grown to market size. They are then shipped to Japan, where the market is huge, and supplied with eels from many sources.
This past year, Pierce said, the domestic eel fishery was poor in Japan, and the European Union limited eel exports for conservation reasons and to satisfy the domestic market. According to Young, the world elver harvest has been “less than one-third” of the previous year’s.
“There’s going to be a short supply this season,” Pierce said. “That’s going to put our eels in big demand.”
Assuming continued free-market conditions in the elver business, big demand and short supplies should mean high prices for Maine harvesters.
Young said he thought the dealers likely would pay harvesters as much as $2,200 per pound when the season opens, and that the market might see “record prices” this year.
Pierce also expected the opening price to be around $2,000 per pound but predicted it could go considerably higher because of the demand, the substantial markup Maine dealers get on the elvers they sell.
“Buyers who can get more will pay more because they can ship more,” Pierce said.