An elver fisherman checks his nets in Somesville on Saturday morning a short time after low tide. Eels have a catadromous life cycle, which means they live mainly in fresh water but go into salt water to spawn. Last year, prices for the small eels dropped significantly due to the pandemic’s effect on the buying market. PHOTO BY SARAH HINCKLEY

Chilly start to elver season

ELLSWORTH — The elver season is already underway, but it likely won’t heat up in earnest until temperatures ratchet up a few more degrees.

“People ain’t catching a whole lot right now,” said Ellsworth-based Darrell Young, the co-director of the Maine Elver Fishermen’s Association.

The multimillion-dollar fishery opened on March 22, but local fishermen have reported little action while waiting for waters to warm up.

They chalk the delay up to recent rains, which have kept the waters cool and flows fast, less than ideal conditions for the small spaghetti-like young eels that migrate upriver from the sea.  

As of April 1, a total of 315 pounds of the state’s 7,556-pound quota had been caught, according to the state Department of Marine Resources, though the agency cautioned that those figures were “extremely preliminary.” 

The Passamaquoddy Tribe fared better, catching 716 pounds of the tribe’s 1,288-pound quota, according to the DMR report. 

The elver season runs through June 7, or until the quota is met. 

Young said that most of the eels that had been caught were likely closer to Portland, where temperatures haven’t been as low.

In Somesville, Norm Closson has been fishing for elvers for about 25 years and the 73-year-old said neither of his two nets have caught anything so far.

“It’s the slowest I’ve ever seen it start out,” he said.

He also pointed to the recent big rainstorms as the culprit.  

Fishermen have to check their nets every 16 hours and with the season so poor, Closson has stopped fishing, though he’s hopeful his nets will fill soon. 

“It’s been kind of an odd year,” he said. 

Dealers have reported buying 1,048 pounds of elvers for a reported value of $1,163,102, according to DMR. The current average price per pound is $1,109 — about half as high as it was before the pandemic.

The elver season was delayed in 2020 because of COVID, so on the bright side any catch so far in 2021 is above this time last year, said David Smith, who runs a shellfish shop on Mount Desert Island and has nets in Somesville with his wife. 

Smith has been fishing for elvers since the 1990s and he was hopeful that fishermen’s fortunes would rise along with water temps.

“We’re just waiting,” he said. “Hopefully the water warms up.” 

Ethan Genter

Ethan Genter

Former reporter for the Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander, Ethan covered maritime news and the town of Bar Harbor.
Ethan Genter

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