ELLSWORTH — While cold water temperatures may be discouraging elvers from making their way from the relatively warm ocean up Maine’s chilly inlets and still-icy streams, Friday marks the beginning of the state’s 10-week elver fishing season.
The incentive for harvesters to get their gear in the water at a prime spot is high.
Last year, the Department of Marine Resources cut the season short because a rash of illegal sales put the state at risk of landing more than its federally mandated quota of 9,688 pounds of elvers.
Despite that, according to DMR, elver harvesters pocketed $21,747,190 for the 9,191 pounds they did land in 2018, reflecting an average “on-the-bank” price of $2,366 for the tiny, transparent creatures.
Last year was the third most lucrative in the fishery, which dates, according to DMR data, back to 1994. It finished only behind 2012 and 2013, years in which there was no quota for elvers.
In 2012, landings totaled 21,611 pounds and the average price was just under $1,869 per pound. A year later, the fishery saw landings of 18,080 pounds and an average price of about $1,821.
Recent prices are a far cry from what they were only a few years ago. As recently as 2006, the price on the stream bank was just $61 per pound.
While it is far too early to know what the market will bring this year, it isn’t hard for harvesters holding even the 4-pound minimum individual landing quota to imagine a hefty reward for their efforts by the time the June 10 closing date for the fishing season rolls around.
Last year, according to DMR, 1,185 harvesters were licensed to fish for elvers in Maine. As of last Thursday, 1,126 licenses had been issued and that number was expected to rise, DMR spokesman Jeff Nichols said.
Maine law caps the number of elver licenses DMR may issue at 425. The remaining licenses were issued by the state’s four federally recognized tribes — the Penobscot Nation, the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, the Houlton Band of Maliseet and the Passamquoddy Tribe — which collectively are allowed to land 21.9 percent of Maine’s elver quota, currently just over 2,121 pounds.
In an effort to forestall a repeat of last year’s turmoil that saw a few dealers purchase elvers landed by unlicensed harvesters or harvested outside of Maine, then the only state other than South Carolina with a legal elver fishery, DMR has imposed several new rules governing buyers.
Starting this year, no more than one elver dealer can do business at any single physical address. The rules also require that harvesters and dealers completely empty any vehicle-based elver container — particularly aerated live tanks on trucks — when the contents are transferred to the dealer’s permanent storage facility.
There is also a new rule that requires the Marine Patrol to monitor and seal the packing of elvers bound for export. Currently, virtually all elvers landed in Maine are exported to farms in mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea or Taiwan.
Where are they all coming from?
By Stephen Rappaport
ELLSWORTH — Maine law currently allows the Department of Marine Resources to issue 425 elver fishing licenses each year, but there are a lot more elver harvesters around than that on the stream banks.
Last year, 1,185 elver licenses were issued to Maine fishermen, 760 of them by Maine’s four federally recognized tribal communities: the Penobscot Nation, the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and the Passamaquoddy Tribe.
As of last week, according to DMR, the total number of harvesters receiving licenses so far this year is 1,126. Of those, 676 — by far the most — were issued to Washington County residents.
The breakdown of licenses issued to harvesters by county:
Androscoggin – 8
Aroostook – 9
Cumberland – 59
Franklin – 10
Hancock – 101
Kennebec – 9
Knox – 64
Lincoln – 52
Oxford – 4
Penobscot – 67
Sagadahoc – 14
Somerset – 10
Waldo – 17
Washington – 676
York – 26.
Maine’s four tribal communities are entitled to harvest, in the aggregate, 21.9 percent of the state’s annual elver landings quota, currently 9,688 pounds, established by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.
This year, harvesters licensed by DMR will be allowed to land up to a total of 7,566 pounds of elvers.
The total quota for harvesters licensed by the tribes is 2,122 pounds allocated: 1,304.3 pounds to the Passamaquoddy Tribe; 620 pounds to the Penobscot Nation; 107 pounds to the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians; and 39 pounds to the Aroostook Band of Micmac Indians.
The Passamaquoddy quota for 2019 was reduced by 51.7 pounds to compensate for landings by tribal fishermen in excess of their 2018 quota of 1,356 pounds.