AUGUSTA — In 2017, Maine harvesters landed just under 9,300 pounds of juvenile eels known as elvers during a 10-week, March to June fishing season, and dealers reported paying harvesters a total of just over $12 million for their catch — an average of $1,302 per pound.
The elver fishery is far and away the most valuable in the state of Maine, at least on a per-pound basis, so who wouldn’t want a chance to cash in the potential bonanza? Just a few years ago, in 2015, elver fishermen earned more than $2,100 per pound, and at times, the price soared to nearly $3,000.
Last year, the Legislature capped the number of elver fishing licenses at 425 and directed the Department of Marine Resources to set up a lottery to determine which lucky Mainers would get any licenses that might be available.
Initially, seven licenses were available but, as a result of nonrenewal or license suspensions, the DMR ultimately had 13 licenses to raffle off in the lottery.
Hopeful harvesters could file as many as five applications online or in person at department headquarters in Augusta at a cost of $35 each plus a $2 service fee for each online entry. The deadline was Monday, Jan. 15, and the entries poured in, primarily through the DMR’s website.
According to department spokesman Jeff Nichols, 3,136 individuals took part in the lottery and filed a total of 8,093 entries. Just under half the entrants, 1,496 in all, entered only once. The winners, once they are chosen, will be able to purchase a resident 2018 elver fishing license for $205 and will be allocated a landings quota of at least four pounds. The fee for a nonresident license is $542.
The lottery was a boon to the DMR. From each application fee, $25 will go to the department’s Eel and Elver Management Fund. The money is used for research and to manage the state’s eel and elver resources, to enforce laws related to eels and elvers, and to cover the costs associated with determining eligibility for elver fishing licenses. The additional $10 will be used to cover the department’s costs associated with administering the lottery.
The total of funds generated by the lottery, Nichols said, was $283,255.
So far, the DMR has not announced the names of the successful lottery entrants.
“We will be working with InforME to generate the winners through a random drawing of applicants,” Nichols said last week. “I don’t have a timeline or specific details on their drawing process yet, but I’ll be issuing a press release that includes all this information when the drawing is done.”