BREWER, Maine (NEWS CENTER) --- State marine officials are still trying to work through just how to lower catch rates for onevery valuable fish in Maine's waters. Baby eels called 'elvers' were at one point worth thousands of dollars for those licensed to catch them. Now the state is looking to lower catch rates for the fish by up to 40 percent.
State officials say they have to lower those catch rates because nationally advisors wanted to cut them even more. Last year fishermen caught close to 19,000 pounds of elvers in Maine. This year the state wants to lower that number to about 12,000 pounds. Last year the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission recommended a 3,500 pound catch limit for elvers in the state because nationally the concern is that the elver stock could be fading fast.
In response licensed fishermen from around the state have been invited to weigh in at public meetings hosted by the marine resources department. One was well attended in Brewer Tuesday afternoon.
State officials say for the most part many people understand why catch limits have to be lowered. The question is how to accomplish that in a way that doesn't overly-restrict the fishery. Ideas like placing restrictions on fishing gear, shortening the elver season even further in the springand even placing individual quotas for licensed fishermen are all being considered. The chief concern is if changes are made will the new system be fair for everyone.
"The economics are driving this issue," said Patrick Keliher, who is the commissioner of the department, "when you have prices of $2,000 a pound and you have a fully engaged fishery..all of the effort fully engaged...it creates additional problems."
State officials will be taking their final plan for the elver season before the national marine fisheries commission in early February. They say they're also looking at issuing cards to licensedfishermen to keep a better eye on catch rates.