Fyke nets, like these in Surry, are a sign of the season in Maine. The elver fishery opened last week. PHOTO BY STEPHEN RAPPAPORT

Early elver landings slow

ELLSWORTH — Forecasters predicting a slow but lucrative start to the elver fishing season were right on both counts.

The season got under way last Thursday and, by the close of business on Tuesday, the Department of Marine Resources said dealers reported buying 114.95 pounds of elvers and paying harvesters $315,789 for their landings — an average price of $2,747 per pound.

Darrell Young, a longtime elver harvester who established a buying station in Ellsworth this year, said the price opened high last week and has fluctuated between $2,600 and $2,900 per pound.

“I think the price will stay high,” Young said Tuesday.

The season, and the market, still has a long way to go.

Maine elver harvesters fish under a fixed landings quota of 9,688 pounds during a season that ends this year on June 7. Based on the DMR reports, with slightly more than nine weeks left in the 10-week season, about 1.2 percent of the quota has been taken out of Maine’s rivers.

Of the early landings, 51.84 pounds, about 45 percent of the total, were landed by holders of licenses issued by the Passamaquoddy Tribe. Under an agreement negotiated among Maine and the state’s four federally recognized Indian tribes in 2013, the Passamaquoddy have been allotted 14 percent (1,356 pounds) of the total elver quota allowed the state by the interstate Atlantic States Fisheries Management Commission. Another 7.9 percent is allocated among the Penobscot Nation, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and the Aroostook Band of Micmacs.

Earlier this week, the ASMFC’s American Eel Board announced that it would defer until August a decision, currently being considered, on whether to restore Maine’s elver quota for the 2019 fishing season to its 2014 level of 11,749 pounds.

It isn’t hard to understand why the season is off to a slow start.

Elvers are juvenile eels that migrate from the Atlantic Ocean, where they are born, up Maine’s streams and rivers to fresh water, where they may live as long as 20 years before returning to the sea to spawn. Right now, the water in those rivers is cold, with the temperature kept down by recent snow melt.

On Tuesday, Young said fishing was slow around eastern Maine and in the Ellsworth area.

“There were just a couple of fishermen fishing last night and they got nothing,” Young said.

“We need warmer water, get rid of the snow and get the ice out of the ponds,” he said. “There are no eels running now. They’re laying out in the ocean.”

The data confirms what is obvious to the eye, and the elver fisherman.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, when the elver season opened on March 22, the temperature of the water coming down many Maine rivers was just above the freezing mark.

Sea water temperatures off the Maine coast are low, too. On Monday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported sea water temperatures off Bar Harbor below 36 degrees Fahrenheit. At the NERACOOS buoy set at the entrance to Penobscot Bay, the seawater temperature was below 38 degrees on Tuesday and below 36 degrees on opening day.

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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