Robert F. Bukaty/AP

Maine Attorney General Under Fire Over Elvers

Gale Courey Toensing

The state has become interested in elvers only during the last few years, as the price of the squiggly baby eels has shot up astronomically. According to Maine’s Department of Marine Resources, the elver harvest in 2010 was just over 3,000 pounds and worth $584,851 with a per-pound price of $185.20. In 2011, the total catch shot up to 8,585 pounds and was worth $7.6 million with a per pound price of $891.48. By 2012 more than 20,000 pounds of elvers were landed, earning $38.7 million with a per-pound price of more than $1,800. With the reduced catch last year, ASMFC officials recently estimated the value of Maine’s 2013 elver harvest at nearly $33 million, the Bangor Daily News reported.

While the tribe issued more licenses last year than the state permitted, it placed a limit on the total number of pounds that tribal members could catch, which is the basis of the tribe’s conservation plan. This year the state has caught up to the Passamaquoddy’s traditional knowledge and practice of conservation. Spurred by an order from the ASMFC to reduce the state’s total catch by up to 40 percent, the Department of Marine Resources has agreed to a 35 percent cut to the 2013 total of 18,000 pounds, bringing the 2014 allowable catch to 11,750 pounds, according to testimony heard at a Marine Resources Committee work session on the proposed MOA on January 26. The state will limit the number of pounds caught by individual non-tribal license holders.

The Passamaquoddy Tribe has agreed to cap the total amount caught by its members at 1,650 pounds, with no limits placed on individual catches. The tribe agreed to prohibit the use of fyke nets—large, funnel-shaped nets placed in the water that elvers swim into—but can issue an unlimited number of dip nets. Both tribal members and non-tribal members will be required to use swipe cards when they sell their catch.

The 1,650-pound cap is a compromise for the Passamaquoddy, said Corey Hinton, a Passamaquoddy citizen and an attorney representing the tribe in the ongoing negotiations with the state. 

“Obviously we wanted a larger cap, but this is a piece of responsible stewardship and conservation, and we’ve carried that torch for a long time and are prepared to continue to do so,” Hinton said. The most important thing to the Passamaquoddy community is access to the water and its resources, Hinton said.

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