STATEWIDE – The Maine Department of Marine Resources said Wednesday that the 2018 elver season would shut down on Thursday, May 24, due to illegal activity.
The department’s commissioner used emergency rule-making to implement the closure. This will end the elver season two weeks early. Typically the season runs from late March through early June.
The shutdown is the result of an investigation by the Maine Marine Patrol that found that some Maine elver dealers were misusing quotas.
Per the emergency ruling, holders of an elver fishing license may not fish for or take elvers after 6 a.m. on May 24, but may possess and sell elvers until noon on the same day.
“Harvesters were, you know, were making a lot of money,” said Jeff Nichols, the director of communications for the Maine Department of Marine Resources. “And unfortunately because there were some folks that wanted to go around the system, we had to shut this season down.”
Elvers bring in about $24 million dollars a year, according to state officials. The young eels, which are caught using special nets in Maine waters, are highly valued in Asia. In 2015, elvers were worth about $2,000 per pound.
State officials said charges will be filed against dealers and harvesters who bought and sold elvers without using the state’s swipe card quota system.
The swipe card system keeps track of the weight and value of every sale, which state officials said keeps the industry sustainable.
But according to marine officials, the fact that these illegal sales were not being recorded likely means the quota for this year was already met or even surpassed.
“The swipe card system is proving that people are able to go around it and usurp this system, then he [the commissioner] may have to consider other measures,” said Nichols, with the Maine Department of Marine Resources.
While the coast-wide investigation is ongoing, the state’s marine resources commissioner is looking into the future of regulation.
“The Atlantic State Fisheries Commission is going to be considering soon an addendum to the fisheries management plan for elvers, that would have as an option the increase of the state’s quota,” said Nichols.
Nichols said that addendum would be discussed in June. The state’s elver quota is currently set at 9,688 pounds.