ELLSWORTH — The elver fishing season just about three weeks old, it began March 22, but the tiny, valuable juvenile eels are in no hurry to start swimming up Downeast brooks and rivers.
As of 6 p.m. Monday, the Department of Marine Resources reported that licensed dealers had purchased a total of just over 1,150 pounds of the little wrigglers from harvesters licensed by the state or by one of Maine’s four federally recognized Indian tribes but had already paid out a whopping $2,810,488 for the catch. That’s an average price of $2,443 per pound.
That was a few dollars less than the going price early Monday morning at D & D Elvers, a new dealer that set up shop on Water Street this week.
The new buying operation belongs to father and son Darrell Young and Dustin Young and, while the shop is a new venture, handling elvers is old hat to the Young family.
Darrell and his wife, Angela, are both longtime alewife and elver harvesters and were among the founders of the Maine Elver Fishermen Association.
Dustin, in his mid-20s — said he has been fishing with his family “since I was a little kid” in Franklin.
Although he already has plenty to keep him occupied during elver season, between tending his own fyke nets, lobbying the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission for an increase in the state’s annual landings quota and preparing for the spring run of alewives, Darrell set up the new dealership primarily because Dustin wasn’t able to get a license to harvest elvers.
Maine has capped the number of active elver licenses at 425 each year. In January, the Department of Marine Resources held a lottery for chances to buy one of the 11 harvesting licenses available for the 2018 fishing season. Those licenses became available after some 2017 licenses were not renewed for various reasons,
More than 8,000 entries were submitted by more than 3,000 people, including Dustin, trying for a license. Hopefuls could buy up to five chances, at $35 each, to take part in the lottery.
“I put in my shares,” Dustin said Monday morning, but he wasn’t one of the lucky 11.
Since the 2105 season, elver harvesters have been able to employ someone to help them with their fishing, working on the bank but not in the water. Dustin has been working with his father during the season since then.
Once he got that helper license, “I could do everything,” as long as he stayed on shore, Dustin said.
Elver prices fluctuate wildly, sometimes by hundreds of dollars per pound in a single day, but for the past few years they have been consistently high. On Monday morning D&D was offering harvesters $2,500 per pound, but with elvers scarce so far this season, the price in Ellsworth has reached $2,800 or more.
For D&D, the funds to pay those prices come from a Chinese buyer who collects the purchased elvers several times each week and packages them for shipment from Logan Airport in Boston to Japan.
Before closing the deal, and getting the funds, Young had to get his state license then lease and equip his shop with the necessary holding tanks, aeration equipment and the like.
“We’ve got quite a penny invested here,” he said.
The night before he was ready to open, his buyer showed up with a technician to inspect the setup and quiz the Youngs on the proper handling and shipping of delicate elvers.
They passed the test, the buyer deposited funds into the D&D bank account and the Youngs were open for business by last weekend.