ELLSWORTH — With harvesters pocketing as much as $2,600 for a pound of elvers last spring, fishing for the tiny, transparent juvenile eels was almost like panning for gold in a stream full of nuggets. But the gold rush may soon be over.
On Friday, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) announced that it would soon release a draft management plan that is likely to have a profound effect on the fishery for American eels, including elvers. In the worst case, the plan could even bring the commercial fishery to a halt.
Within the next two or three weeks, ASMFC plans to publish a “Draft Addendum III” to its Interstate Fishery Management Plan for American eels. Among other measures up for consideration, the draft will include an option to establish an overall, annual landings quota for elvers — also know as glass eels — or to impose a moratorium on their harvest.
If all goes according to schedule, the commission could act on Addendum III by sometime in May, Kate Taylor, an ASMFC senior fishery management coordinator, said Monday.
Last year, scientists completed a comprehensive “benchmark” stock assessment for American eels. Their conclusion: the population of eels in U.S. waters has declined in recent decades and is currently depleted.
According to the ASMFC, the decline in the number of eels is probably the result of “a combination of historical overfishing, habitat loss, food web alterations, turbine mortality, environmental changes,” as well as toxins and contaminants in the water and disease. The question now facing fisheries regulators is how to address the decline.