WALDOBORO, Maine (NEWS CENTER)- Hundreds of Mainers today began the hunt for tiny eels, which they hope will bring big dollars. Maine's ten week elver fishing season started at noon today.
On the Medomak River in Waldoboro and other spots along the coast, fishermen raced to get the best spots to set their nets.
Elvers, also known as "glass eels" because they are nearly transparent, are very young American eels.
They're born in the Sargasso Sea, in the mid-Atlantic, then migrate up rivers and streams to live in lakes and ponds. There, the eels grow to full size before migrating back to sea to spawn.
The elver fishery is totally focused on markets in Asia, where buyers take the tiny eels and grow them to full size, after which they're sold as a very popular food. Elver fishing didn't get a lot of attention until last year, when prices for the tiny eels soared to over $2,000 a pound.
The Department of Marine Resources reports that the total value of the 2012 catch to fishermen was more than $38 million, making it the state's second most lucrative fishery, after lobsters. The state restricts the total number of licenses to fewer than 700, and fishermen themselves say a number of people earned big incomes from elvers last year.
But this year, both fishermen and the Marine Patrol expect a slow start to the elver harvest. They say rive r and ocean water is significantly colder than it was in 2012, and predict that will slow the movement of elders into the rivers and streams where they are caught. The entire season lasts just ten weeks, so a slow run of eels will likely consolidate the prime fishing into an even shorter period of time.
Fishermen say they expect prices should be high again this year, with early predictions ranging from $1,400 to $2,000 per pound.