ELLSWORTH – The Maine elver fishing season, slated to open at noon on Sunday, is on an indefinite hold in an effort to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.
On Thursday night, Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher announced he had made the “difficult decision” to close Maine’s coastal waters to “fishing for or taking elvers” for a minimum of two weeks. Harvesters are also explicitly forbidden to set any gear — the most common way to fish for elvers is with fyke nets anchored to the shore and stretching into a stream or other waterway — during the closure.
The federal and Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended that all Mainers practice social distancing by staying at least 6 feet away from other people to reduce the spread of the virus. According to public health authorities, following that recommendation is critically important to prevent overwhelming the health care system.
In a statement Thursday night, Keliher said, “It has become clear that the typical crowded conditions both on the rivers and in the (elver dealers’) shops could not only allow transmission, but also speed the spread of the disease throughout the state as fishermen traveled along the coast to harvest and sell elvers, and then return to their homes.”
Keliher said he had discussed his decision with “industry leaders” as well as leaders of Maine’s four federally recognized tribes, which issue elver fishing licenses to tribal harvesters, to convey the message that “the safety of our communities is our primary concern.”
Keliher has no illusions about the potential impact of the closure on what was Maine’s second most valuable fishery in 2019.
“I know that this is devasting news to individuals who rely on this fishery,” he said. “I hope that we will be able to allow fishing to resume later this season, and that fishermen will have the opportunity to catch the quota they have been allocated.
“During the period of the closure, we will work with the industry toward developing a plan to try to allow fishing to occur in a safe manner. We will keep you informed as we know more.”