By Bill Trotter
Maine’s 2013 elver fishing season is not playing out as a repeat of 2012. For one, the penalties now are higher, thanks to a new law that went into effect on Tuesday.
Anyone who fishes or possesses the young American eels without a license now can be taken to jail for a first offense.
Halfway through the annual 10-week season, prices and the volume of landings are both lower than they were a year ago, according to people connected with the industry. The suspected reason landings are lower so far this year is because air and water temperatures along the Northeast coast, including Maine, were unusually high in the spring of 2012. Elver fishing usually starts out slow in late March, when snow is still a factor, but last year the warm weather made elver landings heavy straight off the bat, people said in interviews this week.
The current prevailing prices elver fishermen are getting have decreased from more than $2,000 per pound, but at around $1,600 they still are exceptionally high compared to what they were only a few years ago.
The high demand in the Far East for the small clear or “glass” eels remains high enough that people have been willing to risk running afoul of the law because of the potential payday that comes with catching a few pounds in a few hours of work. Now, any act of illegally harvesting or possessing elvers is a criminal offense, meaning anyone without a valid license caught fishing or in possession of elvers can be arrested and, if found guilty, sentenced to serve jail time.
Before the adoption of the new law, only repeat unlicensed violators could face criminal charges.
It’s the second year in a row the state has increased penalties for elver fishing violations. In March 2012 the Legislature increased fines from $500 to $2,000 and, instead of limiting license suspensions to one year, gave the head of the state Department of Marine Resources authority to permanently revoke the license of a repeat offender. More....