A law that carries criminal penalties for those who fish for elvers illegally took effect this week.

State Sen. Christopher Johnson, D-Somerville, said L.D. 632, which became law Tuesday, criminalizes all aspects of illegal fishing in what has become a very lucrative industry.

Each violation carries a fine of as much as $2,000 and constitutes a Class D crime. Repeat offenders can be arrested.

Previously, illegal elver fishing carried a fine but no criminal penalties.

“I think this was a necessary step … after the selling price for elvers changed and this gold rush mentality developed,” said Johnson, a co-chairman of the Marine Resources Committee.

“In the past,” he said, “some people thought nothing of getting caught and fined. They’d pay the fine and start fishing again. It was just the cost of doing business.”

State regulators said the price for a pound of elvers climbed from about $900 a pound in 2011 to $2,600 a pound last year.

The Department of Marine Resources, which pushed the legislation through, said the value of the elver fishery in 2012 was about $40 million, making it Maine’s second most valuable fishery, behind lobster.

Live elvers are shipped to Asia, then raised in farm ponds to adult size before they are sold to retailers and restaurants.

Maine’s new law also mandates that dealers pay fishermen for elvers with checks instead of cash. Each check must contain the name of the fisherman, creating a paper trail for law enforcement, Johnson said.

Fishermen will be required to provide Marine Patrol officers with photo identification cards.

 

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com