ELLSWORTH — Last year, legislative haggling delayed the start of the elver fishing season, cold weather delayed the arrival of elvers in Maine streams and by the time the season closed at the end of May harvesters still had not landed the total allowable quota of baby eels.
This year, the season was extended for a week to give the fishermen a better shot of filling their quotas, but the elvers paid no heed to the extension and were among the earliest snowbirds returning to Maine. One result of their early arrival is that it is likely that the Department of Marine Resources will shut the fishing season down several weeks early because the federally mandated annual harvest quota has been filled.
Two years ago, at the behest of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the state adopted a statewide 9,688-pound overall landings quota for the elver fishery. The Legislature further allocated that quota among harvesters licensed by DMR and harvesters from each of the state’s four recognized Indian tribes.
According to DMR, as of 5 p.m. on Monday, Maine fishermen had already landed a little more than 9,088 pounds of elvers, including excess landings by the Passamaquoddy Tribe of 71.68 pounds. That amount — about 5 percent of the quota allocated to the tribe — is supposed to be deducted from the Passamaquoddy’s 2017 quota. The tribal elver fishery was closed down about two weeks ago.
Taking that overage into account, harvesters other than members of the tribe may still land an additional 671.19 pounds of elvers before the season closes on June 7.
Of that total, just over 569 pounds is available to harvesters licensed by the DMR. The balance, about 102 pounds, is allocated among Maliseet, Micmac and Penobscot fishermen.
According to DMR, as of late Monday, Maine dealers had purchased a total of 9,088.49 pounds of elvers valued at $13,108,947 — an average of $1,442 per pound.
As the season nears its end, the price that dealers pay fishermen has been dropping. Early on, the price of elvers briefly reached as much as $2,200 per pound. On Tuesday, dealers Bill Sheldon and Larry Taylor were offering harvesters $1,150 per pound at their Ellsworth buying station.
According to Taylor, fishing has slowed down considerably, but he and Sheldon will keep on buying elvers “until the last one is caught.”
Taylor doesn’t anticipate that the price paid to harvesters will rise before the season ends.
“The demand just isn’t there,” he said.