Maine’s lucrative elver fishery is facing some big changes, including smaller catch quotas and a new swipe-card monitoring system that state officials hope will help manage the resource while reducing the poaching of baby eels that fetched up to $2,000 a pound last season.
Both changes follow the state’s promise to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission last month that it will find ways to reduce the 2014 harvest between 25 percent and 40 percent. In the background is a recently uncovered welfare and tax fraud investigation that specifically targets elver fishermen, many of whom are members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe. Records obtained by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram show that the investigation is scheduled to conclude at the end of January, about two months before the next season.
State officials have refused to comment on the fraud initiative, which involves three state agencies reviewing catch records and tax filings from 2010 to 2013 to determine whether any elver fishermen who received welfare benefits have failed to report income. It’s unclear what motivated the special investigation or how much money the state is devoting to the initiative.