PORTLAND, Maine — Maine fishermen will be able to catch the same amount of baby eels for the worldwide market for sushi and Japanese food next year.

An arm of the interstate Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted Tuesday to keep the 2018 quota for baby eels, or elvers, at a little less than 9,700 pounds. Fishermen in Maine catch the elvers in rivers and streams in the spring so they can be sold to Asian aquaculture companies who raise them to maturity for use as food.

Elvers are among the most valuable fisheries in the country on a per-pound basis. They are usually worth more than $1,000 per pound, and Maine is the only state with a significant fishery for them. The eels were worth more than $13 million, or about $1,400 per pound, at the dock last year, and they were worth more than $1,300 earlier this year.

Fishermen in Maine have been allowed to catch a combined total of about 9,700 pounds of the elvers in recent years. Previous to Tuesday’s vote, a working group called for that quota to hold next year, said Kirby Rootes-Murdy, a fishery management plan coordinator with the Atlantic States.

“They recommended Maine’s quota be extended. That the same quota they’ve had for the last three years be extended through 2018,” he said.

A new study could help determine future quotas, Rootes-Murdy said. That could eventually result in an increase in the quota in future years.

The lack of quota is preventing the fishery from growing at a time when it is valuable, said Bill Quimby, a Charleston, South Carolina-based elver dealer who has traded in Maine elvers in the past. South Carolina is the only other state with an elver fishery, and it is much smaller than Maine’s.

“You have a resource that’s not being utilized,” he said. “I’d like to see something with a future.”

Elvers that are raised to maturity are often sold to the lucrative Japanese restaurant market, where they mainly are served grilled. They also are used in sushi and other dishes. Some eventually return to the U.S. for use in restaurants, in Maine, California and elsewhere.

Author photo
PATRICK WHITTLE
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