PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Worries that war in Europe or fickle weather could hold back one of America’s most valuable fisheries appear to have been unfounded.
Baby eels, also called elvers, are one of the most lucrative wild fish species in the United States. Maine is the only state in the country with a major baby eel fishing industry, and the price of small fish has returned to pre-pandemic levels. this spring.
Fishermen are selling the baby eels for $2,110 a pound at the docks, the Maine Department of Marine Resources reported Monday. They have also already exhausted more than four-fifths of their quota for the season, which runs from late March to early June.
Eels are so valuable because they are needed by Asian aquaculture companies, which farm them to maturity for use as food. The value of eels fell to $525 a pound in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic upended markets, before rebounding more than three times last year.
Industry members said ahead of the start of this season they feared the international seafood supply chain could be jeopardized by war or further COVID-19 shutdowns in Asia.
The industry is indeed facing challenges, such as the closure of the Hong Kong border at the start of the season, but is seeing strong demand and high catches, said Mitchell Feigenbaum, an elver trader.
“The eels are moving slower, which makes the business more risky, but the underlying demand is strong, which is good news for anglers,” Feigenbaum said. “Catches came in very early this season and in numbers we haven’t seen since 2012.”
Fishermen harvest baby eels with nets from Maine’s rivers and streams. They have been helped by favorable weather this year. The banks of the Presumpscot River, which runs through the state’s largest city, Portland, have been flanked by fishermen with fyke nets in recent weeks.
Eels are part of the global sushi and Japanese food supply chain. Some return to America, where they are served in Japanese restaurants in dishes like kabayaki.