April 24, 2012

Photos and video: In search of elvers

Text and photos by Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

John Moore of Freeport hoists a fishing pole high above his head and dips the net into the chilly April water, gliding it back and forth just beneath the surface.

click image to enlarge

John Moore of Freeport fishes for baby eels, known as elvers, in a southern Maine river Thursday night.

Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Elver fisherman Dana Hole holds a pair of the creatures in his gloved hand while fishing in a southern Maine river Thursday night.

Standing on a rock outcropping in a southern Maine river, Moore repeats the graceful motion multiple times before drawing his net in close, turning on his headlamp and examining the catch. There, among tiny bits of driftwood, leaves and other debris, lies the prize: elvers, or baby eels.

Moore is one of about a dozen fishermen on this river alone dipping for the tiny creatures. The competition is fierce, and for good reason: Baby eels have been reported to fetch prices of up to $2,000 a pound so far this spring.

Elvers run with the tide at night, leaving the fishermen with a narrow window between nightfall and early morning to net as many as they can.

The craft is largely territorial. Many of the locals have staked out their respective spots for the past 30 years or more and asked that the name of the river they were fishing in not be revealed for fear of attracting unwanted competition.

Once the elvers are purchased by Japanese buyers, they are allowed to mature and are then sold. The adult eels are considered a delicacy, and a pound of elvers can end up being worth $30,000 once they are fully grown.

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