Roy Whalen II of Sullivan (foreground) and his son Roy Whalen III (middle) bolster their fyke nets with boulders on the eastern shore of the Union River on opening day, March 30, of Maine's elver (baby eel) fishery. The season's start was delayed eight days due to new rules implemented to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and reduce the number of fishermen alongside rivers and streams. ISLANDER PHOTO BY LETITIA BALDWIN

Elver season opens with new safety measures in place

ELLSWORTH — Yes, Virginia, there will be an elver season this year after all. 

Last Thursday, the Department of Marine Resources announced that the 2020 elver fishing season would open at 8 a.m. on Monday, March 30. Originally slated to open on Sunday, March 22, the season was delayed by DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher because of concerns about the spread of COVID-19. At the time, Keliher said he was concerned that some elements of the fishery, “as traditionally practiced,” made it difficult to adhere to social distancing recommendations from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Those include maintaining 6 feet of separation between people, in order to reduce the spread of this disease. 

The announcement last week described a fishing season unlike any other in recent years. 

For the first time, licensed elver harvesters will be allowed to fish for and sell the elver quota of other licensed harvesters instead of just their own quota. Dealers also have agreed to limit the number of transactions with harvesters during the season substantially by setting a minimum purchase quantity of 1 pound of elvers. 

“Our objective is to reduce the population of harvesters congregating on the shores and at dealers’ shops,” Keliher said in a statement last Thursday. “Key to achieving this objective will be to allow those who are the most vulnerable to remain at home and have another harvester catch the elvers for them.” 

For the first time since the individual quota system was introduced in 2014, one license holder may allow another to use their gear to catch and sell their quota for them. The license holder who is fishing must have in their possession the license and magnetic swipe card used to record sales at dealers’ shops of the harvester who is staying home. 

Under the new rules, a license holder may fish and sell elvers for several license holders but may not “take, possess or sell” more pounds of elvers than the aggregate quota of all the license holders for whom they are fishing. 

According to DMR, harvesters will be “expected” to maintain the 6-foot social distancing separation at the water’s edge or the dealers’ shops. DMR recommends that harvesters spread out fishing effort on the rivers as much as possible and fish as close to home as practical to avoid traveling throughout the state. 

According to DMR, the state’s elver dealers have agreed on an extensive set of protocols for sales transactions designed to minimize the risk of the spread of COVID-19. Just limiting transactions to a minimum of 1 pound will eliminate hundreds of transactions over the course of the season and further reduce the potential to spread the virus. Other requirements, among many, call for setting appointments for transactions, prohibiting harvesters from actually entering a dealer’s shop and discouraging the practices of congregating and socializing during the course of the transactions. Dealers are also barred from touching the harvesters’ buckets, nets and so on, and harvesters will be required to sanitize the magnetic swipe card reader that records sales after they use it. The Marine Patrol will monitor the fishery for compliance with the necessary protocols. 

“If I become aware that participants are not following protocols designed to keep all residents of the state of Maine safe, the fishery will be closed,” Keliher said. He also warned that changes in the Maine CDC guidelines before the season ends in June could force him to close the fishery early. 




Becky Pritchard
Becky Pritchard covers the town of Bar Harbor, where she lives with her family and intrepid news-dog Joe-Joe. She worked six seasons as a park ranger in Acadia, and still enjoys spending her spare time there.

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