PORTLAND, Maine — Maine fishermen might be allowed to catch millions more baby eels next year, regulators announced on Tuesday.
Baby eels, called elvers, are typically worth more than $1,000 per pound at the docks in Maine. Maine is the only U.S. state with a significant fishery for elvers, which are sold to aquaculture companies to be raised to maturity and used as food.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission limits Maine fishermen to 9,688 pounds of elvers per year, but on Tuesday it unveiled new rules that could increase that total to 11,479 pounds. There are more than 2,000 elvers in a pound.
Members of the eel fishing industry, as well as some chefs and seafood dealers, have called for the added quota because of years of stewardship in Maine to keep the elver population healthy. The state’s elvers are worth so much in part because foreign stocks of eels have dried up.
“Maine has addressed poaching in a very successful manner,” said Jeffrey Pierce, a consultant to Maine’s elver industry. He cited a swipe card system that allows the state to “track every elver from stream to exporter.”
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted on Tuesday to send the proposed new fishing rules out for public comment. It must vote on the new rules for them to take effect and could do so as soon as May. This year’s elver fishing season begins next month and will be limited by the current quota.
Elvers are fished from rivers and streams, often late at night in frigid weather, using nets. A new quota could be in place in time for next year’s fishing season, which takes place every spring.
Some elvers fished from Maine rivers eventually return to the state to be served in Japanese restaurants. Richie Akizaki, a sushi chef in Japan, said he expects prices for eels to be especially high this year.
“Eel prices are going up,” he said. “We buy from a distributor in New York City who says prices will be double in the summer.”