ELLSWORTH — With a month still left in the fishing season that ends May 31, the price of elvers (technically, glass eels) is on the rise, but many fishermen have already filled their annual quota and are dumping juvenile eels back into the water.
According to Ellsworth elver buyer Bill Sheldon, there are still plenty of elvers in the water, but that’s not doing the fishermen any good. Some harvesters with just 1 or 2 pounds of quota remaining have had to toss 15 to 20 pounds of elvers overboard to avoid overfishing their allocations.
“It’s a shame when you consider the economics of Hancock and Washington counties,” Sheldon said on Monday.
Maine elver harvesters are limited to a total annual landings quota of 9,616 pounds set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. According to preliminary figures released by the Department of Marine Resources, as of 6 p.m. on Sunday, dealers had reported buying just under 7,218.4 pounds from licensed harvesters, approximately 75 percent of the annual limit. With 31 days still to go in the season, only 2,397.6 pounds of quota remained available to harvest.
On Monday, Sheldon said that after falling to $1,150 per pound, the going price for elvers was $1,300 and going up.
The price “seems to have bottomed out,” Sheldon said. “My expectation is that it will increase slowly to the end of the season.”
According to DMR, the average price harvesters have received for elvers so far this season is $1,311. A few years ago, the price reached $2,600 per pound.
Whatever the price, Sheldon said, “it’s millions and millions of dollars” that fishermen could put in their pockets if the ASMFC would set a larger quota.
“Once the quota is met, the eels are worthless,” he said.
According to Sheldon, in eastern Maine the catch so far this year has showed that there is “an abundance of eels in the water.” He contends that the ASMFC set the quota three years ago using out-of-date and faulty estimates of the size of the elver population.
“They need to re-evaluate the biomass and increase the quota to an amount based on the existing population,” he said.
Although the quota is nearly filled, as of the beginning of the week, fishing had yet to start around Bangor on the Penobscot River because the water has been too cold. Once it warms up, the elvers will move upstream, but will be off limits to fishermen.
“There were a lot of eels around and there still is,” Sheldon said. “It’s like another whole quota.”
Based on data from the magnetic swipe cards fishermen present to dealers when they sell their catch, and which are inactivated when an individual quota is reached, harvesters licensed by DMR have landed a total of 5,500.5 pounds of elvers, leaving a balance of about 2,066 pounds of quota remaining.
Maine’s four recognized Indian tribes issue their own elver fishing licenses and their harvesters receive swipe cards issued by DMR.
As of Sunday evening, harvesters licensed by the Passamaquoddy Tribe had filled their quota of just over 1,284 pounds and their swipe cards were deactivated.
Penobscot Nation harvesters had reportedly harvested all but about 185 pounds of their 620-pound quota.