ELLSWORTH — The Maine Department of Resources has released its 2021 elver quotas for license holders and they look the same as those in place for 2020, merely updating the years referred to in the 2020 rule.
“2021 allocations for individuals who held a license in 2020 will be the same as their 2019 allocation,” the proposed rule states. Any excess that is not allocated to new license holders will be “distributed evenly to all existing license holders.”
However, what is new is a proposed “tending requirement,” requiring that the contents of fyke nets and Sheldon box traps be removed at least once every 16 hours. The theory behind the proposed rule is that if fishermen regularly check their nets and traps, the risk of bycatch and elver mortality will decrease.
The extremely lucrative commercial elver fishery is limited by the number of licenses the DMR allows — 425 — and the total catch as determined by the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Council — 9,688 pounds.
But last year elver prices dropped to a 10-year low, $506 average price per pound, down from $2,000 per pound in 2015 and $2,366 in 2018. The price drop was largely related to a drop in demand from Asian buyers, mainly because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to elver fisherman Darrell Young, who founded the Maine Elver Fishermen Association. Demand for the coming 2021 season is difficult to gauge, he said.
“We really don’t know a lot right now,” Young said. “Sounds like the price is going to be a little bit better, but it’s too early to tell. Everything can change.”
Elver landings account for less than 1 percent of Maine’s total commercial landings but for 3 percent of the value of all commercial landings, according to 2019 data, the most recent the DMR has available. That year, 9,620 pounds of elvers were harvested for a total of $20,119,194. For 2020, while landings remained stable, the elver fishery brought in just over an estimated $5 million.
The date the 2021 elver season opens has not yet been released but fishing typically begins in mid- to late-March. Last year it was delayed to April 5 while the DMR established pandemic safety guidelines and requirements.
License holders may renew their licenses annually, if they remain eligible, with unrenewed licenses issued anew through a lottery system. Last year, nine new licenses were issued out of over 3,600 applications, with two of them going to Hancock County residents and four to residents of Washington County.
To enter the lottery, one must be 15 years of age, be a resident of Maine and not have had the right to obtain a license suspended. Visit www.apps1.web.maine.gov/cgi-bin/online/dmr/elver/index.pl to apply.