Regulators postpone vote on Maine's eel fisheryAP , Associated Press
May. 21, 2013 7:17 PM ET
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Regulators on Tuesday postponed making a decision on new rules concerning Maine's lucrative American eel fishery.
The eel management board of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission was scheduled to vote on proposed new regulations for glass, yellow and silver eel fisheries from Maine to Florida. But after a daylong discussion, the board instead decided to delay a vote until August and form a working group to gather more information about the glass eels, which are baby eels known as elvers.
Options that were under consideration for Maine's elver fishery included keeping the status quo, closing the fishery or setting a catch quota — or a combination thereof.
Tuesday's board meeting took place at the commission's spring meeting in Alexandria, Va.
The regulatory debate is being closely watched by Maine fishermen who catch the elvers in nets as they swim up coastal rivers from the ocean each spring and by dealers who sell the alien-looking creatures to fish farms in Asia, where they are grown to market size.
Catch prices in Maine have spiked the past couple of years to more than $2,000 a pound. Last year's harvest was worth $38 million, making it the second most-valuable fishery in Maine.
The proposed regulations are the result of a stock assessment that concluded the American eel population is technically depleted and at or near historically low levels, likely because of a combination of overfishing, habitat loss from the damming of rivers and streams, pollution, mortality from passing through hydroelectric turbines and possibly disease, among other factors.
Separate sets of regulations are being considered for glass, yellow and silver eels, which are all the same eel but at different life stages. There are commercial yellow and silver eel fisheries, but it's the glass eel fishery that's drawing the most attention because of the sky-high prices.
Elver fishing is prohibited in all Atlantic coast states except Maine and South Carolina. Maine's elver catch topped 20,000 pounds last year, while South Carolina's catch was less than 1,000 pounds.