Maine, US.- America’s only significant state fishery for baby eels has blown past records for value as high demand from overseas aquaculture companies is driving prices to new heights.
Fishermen in Maine search for the eels, called elvers, in rivers and streams every spring so they can be sold to Asian aquaculture companies as seed stock. Fishermen have sold more than $20 million worth of the eels so far this season, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources.
That is the highest total since interstate managers instituted a quota system for the eels in 2014. The previous record was $13.4 million, and fishermen still have until June 7 to catch more of the eels this year.
“Eels are going to get caught up in this next round of tides, I think,” said Darrell Young, co-director of the Maine Elver Fishermen’s Association. “You never know what the price is going to be, but this year it’s high.”
The eels are raised to maturity and used in Japanese cuisine. Some are exported back to the U.S. for use in restaurants in dishes such as unagi. The elvers are always extremely valuable, but they are fetching an especially high price this year because eel fisheries had unproductive years in other parts of the world, members of the industry said.
Maine’s fishermen were selling elvers at the dock for more than $2,400 a pound as of May 16, and that would be a record if it holds until the end of the season, state records say. They’re also not experiencing the slow harvest that has plagued fishermen in other parts of the world, and are on track to tap out their entire 9,688-pound quota this year.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission manages the elver fishery and instituted the quota for the first time in 2014 out of concern that a gold-rush mentality would jeopardize the eel population, which conservationists believe is in peril.