PORTLAND (AP) — Maine's lucrative glass eel fishery will be allowed to remain open next year as long as state officials devise a plan to cut its 2014 catch by at least 25 percent, regulators agreed Wednesday.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's eel management board voted to postpone passing new regulations that would go into effect in 2014, opting instead to vote on new rules next spring that would be effective in 2015, said commission spokeswoman Tina Berger.
In the interim, state officials will work with eel fishermen and dealers in Maine to create a plan that results in next spring's catch being 25 percent to 40 percent smaller than this year's spring harvest.
The regulatory debate has been closely watched by Maine fishermen who catch the tiny translucent eels, known as elvers, in nets as they swim up coastal rivers and by dealers who export the alien-looking creatures to Asia, where they are used as seed stock in aquaculture facilities.
Elver fishing has become very profitable the past two years, with catch prices spiking to more than $2,000 a pound. The total value of the catch was $38.8 million in 2012, making it the state's second most valuable fishery, behind lobster.
Although Maine fishermen will face new rules next spring that cut down on their catch, for the most part they're pleased with the vote, said Jeffrey Pierce, executive director of the Maine Elver Fishermen Association. At previous meetings, some eel management board members wanted to shut down the elver fishery.
"At least this board was willing to listen to keep this glass eel fishery open instead of 'We want it closed,'" Pierce said by phone from the board meeting in St. Simons Island, Ga.