ELLSWORTH — As cold as the weather has been, with some eight weeks left in the 11-week fishing season, by Sunday afternoon Maine elver harvesters had already landed nearly 23 percent of the total annual catch quota of juvenile eels set by federal and state regulators.
Under a quota set in the latest version of the Atlantic States Fisheries Management Commission’s fishery management plan for American eels, Maine fishermen are allowed to harvest 9,688 pounds of elvers — or glass eels — during a fishing season that extends from March 22 through June 7. As of 5 p.m. Sunday, the Department of Marine Resources reported total landings of just over 2,194 pounds, about 22.6 percent of the total.
With the introduction of a magnetic swipe card system — similar to an ATM card — that harvesters must present when they bring in their catch to sell, dealers can record elver purchases and report that information to DMR on a daily basis. With that data, the department can track total landings against the annual quota and also track how much of each fisherman’s individual quota has caught. When a harvester’s quota is reached, the swipe card is deactivated and the harvester can’t sell any more elvers.
The state’s total annual quota is allocated among harvesters licensed by DMR and harvesters licensed by each of Maine’s four recognized tribes. Total quota available to non-tribal harvesters is just over 7,566 pounds and, as of 5 p.m. Sunday, landings totaled 1,652.67 pounds or just under 22 percent of the quota.
By Sunday evening, Passamaquoddy fishermen had landed 467.43 pounds of elvers, just over 34 percent of the tribe’s 1,356.3 pound quota — the largest allocated to any of the tribes. Penobscot harvesters landed 64.93 pounds, a little more than 10 percent of their 620-pound quota.
Maliseet fishermen have landed 1.1 pounds of a 106.6-pound quota. By law, Maliseet landings are confidential until at least three harvesters have reported. Micmac fishermen have landed 7.99 pounds of the tribe’s 38.8-pound quota.
Three weeks into the season, elver dealers Bill Sheldon and Larry Taylor were advertising a price of $1,300 per pound at their buying station on Water Street. When the season opened, the price of elvers was $1,400 per pound.
The drop confirms pre-season predictions that the market for elvers was likely to be soft. The economies of both Japan and Taiwan, the principal consumers of the smoked product known as kabayaki that is made from eels raised primarily in China from elvers imported from around the world, continues to be weak. According to some reports, farmers are having trouble selling the eels they have grown at the same time that the world supply of elvers is strong.