Baby Eels Fishing

Elver fishermen set up a net on the Penobscot River in Brewer in 2017. Fishermen who harvest one of the most valuable aquatic species in the country hope regulators will allow more harvest in the tightly controlled eel fishing industry. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

Regulators voted Tuesday to consider raising the limits on valuable baby eels harvested in Maine’s waterways, though conservationists say the eel populations are declining and need better protection.

Baby Eel Fishing

A fisherman holds baby eels, also known as elvers. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

A board of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, an interstate regulatory panel that manages the baby eel and other fisheries, voted unanimously to consider raising the total annual quota of slightly less than 10,000 pounds of the tiny eels that has been in place for nearly a decade.

The eels are typically worth more than $2,000 per pound because of their value to Asian aquaculture companies, which raise them to maturity and sell them for use in Japanese restaurants around the world.

Maine’s rivers and streams are home to the country’s only significant commercial-scale baby American eel fishery. The only other state with a baby eel fishery is South Carolina, which is much smaller than Maine’s.

Fishermen have been good stewards of Maine rivers, and have worked to remove dams and improve habitat, said Darrell Young, president of the Maine Elver Fishermen’s Association. He said raising the quota would not negatively impact Maine’s longstanding system of monitoring the catch.

“We always know we could have more. We think there’s plenty of eels,” Young said.


The 9,688-pound quota of baby eels, which are also called elvers or glass eels, is due to expire in 2024. The fisheries commission’s American eel management board would need to take action for the quota to be changed for 2025 and beyond. The board voted Tuesday to study the issue and potentially change the quota, though it gave no indication whether it felt an increase was warranted.

The Maine Department of Marine Resources hopes the current quota levels are maintained, said Jeff Nichols, a spokesperson for the state agency.

The baby eels are worth so much money in part because foreign sources of the eels have declined. American eels are also a species of concern for conservationists. The International Union for Conservation of Nature considers them to be endangered, though the U.S. has not listed the species for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The IUCN’s assessment of the eels said they face a “suite of threats that have been implicated in causing the decline” of population, including habitat loss, climate change and hydropower turbines, the assessment said.

Maine’s fishing season happens every spring, and fishermen saw an average price of about $2,031 per pound last season, state records show. That was in line with most recent years.

The eels are worth far more per pound than better known Maine seafood staples such as lobsters and scallops. Some of the eels return to the U.S. for use in Japanese restaurants in dishes such as kabayaki, which is skewered and marinated eel.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: