MYSTIC, Conn. — The Maine elver fishery will be working with a quota of 9,688 pounds for the 2015 season, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) announced following its annual meeting last week.
The number is a slight reduction from the 2014 quota, but may be increased later in the winter through credit for conservation programs. The quota was adopted as part of an addendum to the Fishery Management Plan for the species.
The American Eel Board of the ASMFC is charged with management decisions to ensure a stable population of eels across their lifespan. Elvers, or glass eels, grow into yellow eels and then silver eels. Maine remains one of only two states with a commercial glass eel fishery. Members of and advisors to the Eel Board are concerned enough about low numbers of elvers and overfishing that shutting down the Maine fishery often has been discussed.
“Maine will continue to maintain daily trip level reporting and require a pound-for-pound payback in the event of quota overages in its glass eel fishery,” an ASMFC representative said in a statement. “Additionally, the state will implement a fishery-independent life cycle survey covering glass, yellow and silver eels within at least one river system.”
Representative Walter Kumiega, chair of the Marine Resources Committee in the last session of the Maine Legislature, represents Maine on the Eel Board along with several Department of Marine (DMR) resources staff members. He made the motion at the meeting last week for the reduced quota.
“I would have liked to have had status quo for the fishery,” he said. “But I didn’t think that was politically possible. The board had the option of going with the working group recommendation, the technical committee recommendation or something else entirely. The technical committee came up with (a quota of) less than 5,000 pounds, so I moved to go with the working group quota of over 9,000 pounds plus the conservation credits and yellow eel measures.”
While yellow and silver eels don’t get headlines here in Maine, Kumiega said, they’re important because they lay eggs that grow into elvers. “The biggest problem for American eels right now is out-migrating silver eels getting killed in hydro turbines. That’s two million potential glass eels for every female silver eel.”
The board adopted a program of credits for any eel restoration project, retroactive to 2011. A quarter of the estimated increase in eel population resulting from, say, a dam removal is added to the state’s legal harvest quota. “The Penobscot river dam removal counts,” Kumiega said. “That’s miles of rivers, streams, lakes and ponds open to eels. DMR staff will estimate the increase in eel production, and we can harvest 25 percent of that. We could possibly end up with a higher quota (than last year).” That request for a change in the quota should be reviewed at the board’s February meeting, he said.
With one number for the state fishery set, DMR now begins the rulemaking process to decide how to allocate that quota between the state’s commercial elver license holders and the tribes. The public will be invited to weigh in during that process.