An environmental group has filed their demand, and eels could become an endangered species if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agrees with conservationists’ views upon the preservation of elvers, or baby eels.
It’s a booming market that has seen an incredible rise within the past couple of years. In fact, the prices have increased so much that fishermen are selling the captured baby eels like luxury catches to several markets, including Japan where they’re either sold to customers once they reach adulthood or made into sushi.
In 2009, a pound of baby eels stood at less than $100, but with the destruction of their habitat due to dams and near eradication because of aggressive fishing, in 2015 one pound of eels were sold for a whopping $2,100. It’s in high demand among Asian cultures, but find themselves in large population within the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean.
According to the Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy & Reliability, the eels population had seen an 80% decrease, and their numbers are still “declining catastrophically”, which made the petition gravely needed. In turn, their lowering numbers have also seen the prices go up, and their yearly value sky rocket.
In fact, between 1950 and 2010, the market for elvers was approximated around $3 million per year, before it made an incredible leap to $40 million in 2012, all of this largely attributed to one of United States’ biggest eel fishery in Maine. Stricter regulations has led their value to lower a bit, but the increase remains worryingly high in comparison to the ever decreasing number in their population.
This has led an environmental group to request a restriction on fishing and catching elvers, that generally happens only in Maine or South Carolina, though the market in the latter is considerably lower. Other locations for adult eels are situated in Massachusetts, Maryland, Florida and Delaware, restricted to only adults that are larger than 9 inches.
A law was even passed in Massachusetts last year that increased the fine for elver poaching from the mild $100 fine to the more drastic $10,000, 30 days in jail, or even both in some cases. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has stated that only Maine and Florida are allowed to harvest baby eels.
However, that might be about to change.
According to Rob Roy Ramey, a scientist who had advised the environmental group, the eel population has been allowed to fall into decline with “very little regulatory oversight”, and that their small, slimy, and unappealing aspect has often left them pass beyond the worries of the population. And still, their numbers are growing smaller.
Needless to say, fishermen are not in the slightest happy with the possibility of finding elvers on the Endangered Species Act, stating that the reported numbers are misguided.
According to Darrell Young, from the Maine Elver Fishermen’s Association, there are plenty of adult eels in the Sargasso Sea and will be once the season ends. However, the decision remains in the hands of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who will decide whether to put elvers, or baby eels, under their protection later this month.
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