Elver fishermen getting higher prices this year (so far)

Elver fishermen who did not want to be identified used dip nets on the shore of the Union River in Ellsworth on April 6, 2017 to fish for elvers, one of which sat in a net before sliding through the mesh into a bucket.

Three weeks into Maine’s elver fishing season, the annual springtime fishery has been generating about $900,000 in income each week for the state’s licensed elver fishermen.

With about 1,000 Maine residents holding elver licenses, including members of the state’s four Indian tribes, fishermen have on average been earning about $900 per week.

According to Maine Department of Marine Resources, as of the end of the day on Wednesday, April 12, nearly 1,800 pounds of the juvenile eels have been caught in Maine since the season started on March 22. With an average price of just over $1,500 per pound being offered to fishermen, that’s about $2.7 million worth of elvers that have been caught so far.

The average price paid to elver fisherman during the 2016 season was $1,430 per pound, according to DMR.

If the current approximate average price of just over $1,500 per pound holds steady until the statewide quota of 9,616 pounds is reached, it would result in fishermen netting $14.5 million worth of elvers in Maine in 2017 — which would be the third highest value for the annual elver fishery since 1994, when the state first started keeping stats on it — but it would be quite a stretch to assume the price won’t fluctuate between now and sometime near the end of May when the quota is likely to be reached.

Prices can go up and down by hundred of dollars over the course of the approximate 10-week season, and by more than that from one season to the next. For example, the average price in 2014 was $874.52 per pound, according to DMR statistics, which is the lowest such average since 2011, when demand for eels in the East Asian seafood market shot up. Prior to 2011, when the average price paid to fishermen was just shy of $900 per pound, the highest annual average price paid to Maine elver fishermen was $346.66 per pound in 2007.

In 2015, however, demand increased and Maine fishermen on average were paid nearly $2,172 per pound — two and a half times the average price they had been offered the prior year. The average price in 2015 is the highest it has ever been.

Unless demand takes a nosedive, there’s good money to be made by Mainers who have elver licenses, the number of which are capped by the state. Which must be why the man in this video (who didn’t want to give me his name or show his face to the camera) was willing to stand for more than an hour last week in a nighttime April downpour pushing his dip net back and forth in the Union River in Ellsworth.


Bill Trotter

About Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors. He writes about fisheries, marine-related topics, eastern coastal Maine communities and more for the BDN. He lives in Ellsworth. Follow him on Twitter at @billtrotter.