State regulators are pushing for a limit on tribal claims to Maine’s lucrative elver fishery to avoid a repeat of the 2013 season, when law enforcement clashed with Passamaquoddy fishermen on the banks of the Pennamaquan River.
The effort may end up heightening the tension instead.
The Department of Marine Resources is backing a bill that would make commercial elver fishing licenses issued by Native American tribes invalid unless they’re first ratified by the state. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Walter Kumiega, D-Deer Isle, would also increase fines and criminal penalties for illegal harvesting of elvers, baby eels that have been sold for close to $2,000 a pound in recent seasons.
State and federal regulators are tightening restrictions on the fishery, which is experiencing something of a gold rush, because of growing concerns about overfishing and poaching. The 2014 elver season will start March 22.
Representatives of the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes told lawmakers Monday that Kumiega’s bill is discriminatory and would infringe on federal and state agreements that allow the tribes to manage natural resources on sovereign land.
“The state needs to start managing elvers and stop managing Indians,” said John Banks, natural resources director for the Penobscot Nation.