Illegal fishing drives early shutdown of elver fishery

AUGUSTA — The Department of Marine Resources announced Wednesday, May 23, that it was closing the state’s lucrative elver fishing season two weeks early “because of illegal sales which jeopardize the department’s ability to manage the fishery.”

The department used its emergency rulemaking authority to shut the season down.

The elver fishing season was scheduled to close at noon on Thursday, June 27. Instead, DMR closed the fishing season Thursday, May 24, at 6 a.m.

Although fishing had to end no later than 6 a.m., harvesters were allowed to continue to possess and sell their landings until noon. Licensed dealers had to stop buying at noon, but were allowed to possess the stock of elvers they’d bought until 6 a.m. Monday, May 29.

As of Thursday at noon, by which time all the buying was supposed to be finished, according to DMR, dealers reported having bought a total of 9,178.714 pounds of elvers with a reported value of $21,746,520 — an average price per pound of $2,369 — and the third highest landed value ever recorded in Maine.

Based on those numbers, some 516 pounds of the state’s overall elver quota remained unfilled when DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher shut off the season.

Assuming harvesters had been able to land all those elvers in the 14 days been left in the season, and that the price had remained stable, Maine’s elver landings would have increased some $1,222,404 to $22,968,924, still the third highest on record.

The record, $40,384,618, was recorded in 2012. A year later, the landed value of the elver harvest totaled $32,931,007.

According to DMR, a Marine Patrol investigation revealed that some Maine dealers were buying elvers for cash payments substantially lower than the per-pound price paid to fishermen for elvers that were harvested and tracked through the state’s swipe card system.

The investigation is ongoing, DMR said, and charges will be filed against dealers and harvesters who bought and sold elvers without using the swipe cards.

The electronic swipe card system records the weight and value of each sale, allowing the state to ensure that harvesting does not exceed individual and overall state quotas.

The state’s overall 9,688-pound quota is set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). Individual quotas, which add up to the total quota, are established by the state.

The weight and value of the illegally harvested and sold elvers were not recorded with the swipe card system and are not accounted for in the department’s quota management system.

The swipe card system was established in 2014 to allow DMR to obtain accurate, timely information on the amount of elvers landed and sold in Maine. It has been key in the state’s ability to comply with the overall quota requirement.

“This is a fishery that stood to net Maine license holders nearly $24 million this year, and now because of the greed of some dealers and harvesters, I am obligated to cut that opportunity short,” Keliher said in a statement.

“We believe that if the illegal sales had been recorded, the 2018 elver quota would have already been exceeded,” Keliher said when he announced the shutdown on May 23. “For this reason, an immediate closure of the fishery, done through emergency rulemaking, is necessary to prevent depletion of the elver resource.”

Adherence to the quota is especially critical this year as the ASMFC is about to consider changes to the American Eel Fishery Management Plan including a possible increase in Maine’s elver landings quota.

“The future of this lucrative fishery is now in question,” Keliher said. “We clearly have to consider additional measures to ensure that Maine can remain compliant with ASMFC, that we can continue to protect our state’s valuable marine resources, and that we can hold accountable anyone who chooses to squander the opportunity those resources represent.”

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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