BRISTOL, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- There's less than three weeks to go in Maine's big-money elver fishing season. And while fishermen are having luck atching eels, even the Maine Marine Patrol admits fishermen's incomes are down from last year.
Part of the problem is lower eel prices. During each of the past two seasons, prices were often well over $2,000 per pound. Dealers say that for most of this season elver prices have been less than half that amount. The most recent prices, according to the Marine Patrol, were reported to be close to $1,000. But price is just one issue affecting eel fishermen. The state also imposed strict quotas on how many eels can be caught, and even how much each fisherman is allowed to catch. Federal regulators ordered Maine to cut its total elver harvest by 35 percent. To enforce that, the state instituted a swipe-card system to track how many eels each fisherman catches and sells. Dealers provide daily updates to the DMR. The Marine Patrol says the new system has cut down on theft and taken away some of the gold-rush atmosphere of the elver fishery. Lt. Rene Cloutier told NEWS CENTER "we are out looking but we're not finding the violations we've encountered in the past, people fishing without licenses, fishing around fish-ways. People stealing other people's eels. We're just not finding that this year." Cloutier gives much of the credit to the swipe-card system, which he says takes away the incentive to buy illegal eels.
The Department of Marine Resources says about half of the statewide quota of eels has been caught so far. That amounts to roughly 5,800 pounds. And 59 fishermen have reached their individual quota limits. The state also says the Passamaquoddy Indian tribe has caught just 20% of it's own quota. The Passamaquoddies and Maine's other three Native American tribe were given specific portions of the overall state quota. And while the Passamaquoddies have their own system of licenses, each tribal fisherman also has a state-imposed quota.
Marine Resources officials are meeting this week with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which will ultimately decide if Maine can harvest eels again next year. A DMR spokesman says the state is explaining the state's new management system and compliance record, which it considers to be "excellent". The ASMGC is expected to meet again in August to discuss how much fishing, if any, will be allowed next year.