ELLSWORTH — Officially, the elver fishing season still has more than two weeks to run, but for most harvesters it’s already time to move on to some other occupation.
By state law, Maine’s elver fishing season opens March 22 and ends June 10. By nature’s law, the season effectively closed on May 19, with fishermen having already harvested virtually all the state’s 9,636-pound annual landings quota.
According to the Department of Marine Resources, by 6 p.m. on Sunday dealers had reported buying 9,600.9 pounds of elvers and paying harvesters a total of $20,100,338, an average price of $2,094 per pound.
That was a considerable drop from last year when the average price was $2,366 per pound and the season was closed two weeks early by DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher because of illegal fishing. In 2018, elver landings totaled 9,191 pounds worth some $21.7 million.
This year, the Downeast fishery got off to a slow start, with ice late leaving Maine’s ponds, streams and rivers, but the pace of the harvest clearly picked up in the last few weeks.
Around Casco Bay, elver buyer Darrell Young said Monday, the fishery exploded in April.
“They caught half the quota around Portland then,” Young said.
For Downeast harvesters, the season was delayed, but only briefly.
Around May 1, Young said, “the weather warmed up perfect for a week. A lot of people got done in that stretch of time.”
As of Sunday evening, harvesters licensed by DMR had landed all but 45.1 pounds of their aggregate 7,566.1-pound quota.
Among the state’s four federally recognized tribes, as of Sunday evening the Houlton Band of Maliseet still had nearly 6 pounds of its 106.6-pound quota and the Aroostook Band of Micmac had harvested essentially all its 38.81-pound quota. The Passamaquoddy Tribe had some 21 pounds of its 1,304-pound quota still available to harvest and the Penobscot Nation had just over 5 pounds of its 620-pound quota available.
“It was a good season,” Young said, even though “a lot of people got them all at once.”
A longtime harvester and founding member of the Maine Elver Fisherman Association, Young has been buying elvers for just a couple of seasons and said the learning curve for buyers is steep.
“It’s a short season. It goes quick,” he said. “You learn just a little bit and carry it over to next year.”