The Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) today officially delayed the start of the 2014 elver harvesting season by emergency rule-making. Elvers, which are an early life stage of the American eel, are big money in Maine, with prices skyrocketing to as much as $1800 per pound. Last year, the elver fishery was the State’s second most valuable fishery behind the lobster fishery, but it was also a controversial fishery owing to sustainability concerns and licensing issues. The delay, according to a DMR spokesperson, will give the Department time to “establish, implement and administer” a new “elver transaction card system” and to establish an overall state quota and an individual quota system. The 2014 season was set to open tomorrow.
According to DMR, Commissioner Patrick Keliher adopted the emergency rule-making in order to protect the American eel population from “the unusual damage that would ensue from allowing a fishery on elvers without management measures restricting catch so that an overall total allowable catch (TAC) is enforceable.” Another emergency rule-making action will take place in the next week that will set the 2014 elver harvesting now scheduled to open on Sunday 6 April at noon. This is a longer delay than the “few days” delay Commissioner Keliher discussed at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum in February. Nonetheless, fisheries managers agree the delayed opening will not have a serious impact on 2014 landings given that cold weather in the state will likely delay the elver runs.
2014 Elver Legislation
Two recently passed bills that deal with the elver fishery in Maine are at the heart of the delay. The first, LD 1723, was signed into law by Maine Governor Paul LePage on 13 March, while the second, LD 1625, was signed into law this past Tuesday.
LD 1723 established the elver transaction swipe card system, which will be employed for the first time this year. Fisheries mangers will use the card system to monitor the harvest in real time and ensure the annual quota of nearly 12,000 pounds is not exceeded. In addition, valuable information about the controversial fishery will be uploaded to a secure database and will assist in better data-based management of the fishery.
LD 1625 authorizes DMR to establish a quota-based approach to the elver fishery by emergency rule-making. This year’s quota will be 35 percent less than last year’s reported landings (which were just over 18,000 pounds). The new quota-based system, as well as the overall quota reduction, are the result of collaboration between DMR and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). ASMFC required that the landings of elvers in Maine be reduced to 11,749 this year. In addition, LD 1625 allocates just over 21 percent of the quota to Maine’s Native American tribes, with 14 percent going to the Passamaquoddy Tribe, 6.4 percent going to the Penobscot Nation, 1.1 percent to the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, and 0.4 percent going to the Aroostook Band of Micmacs. Buffers have been built in to all allocations, bringing the actual 2014 quota to 11,161 pounds.
More than 500 Licenses to be Issued
Overall, more than 500 licenses will be issued this year–48 to the Penobscot Nation, 16 to the Houlton Band of Maliseet, 8 to members of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, and 436 to non-tribal Maine residents. Pursuant to LD 1625, the Passamaquoddy tribe will be permitted to issue an unlimited number of licenses. How the overall annual quota will be allocated to eligible license holders is currently under consideration and will be announced soon according to DMR.
“The extremely high prices paid for elvers have incentivized tremendous fishing effort on this resource that must be controlled with additional management measures,” said a DMR spokesperson in a printed statement explaining why emergency rule-making was necessary.