Maine's elver season got underway Sunday, with harvesters, dealers and marine patrol officers all adjusting to the new state rules governing the lucrative glass eel fishery. Members of Maine's Indian tribes who fish for elvers are also under the rules - a deal exempting the four tribes from individual catch quotas fell apart in February, in the wake of constitutional questions raised by Maine's attorney general.
And last week, the Passamaquoddy Tribe announced it would amend its own native law and require its members to adhere to the new catch quotas. Jay Field spent the first day of what looks to be a far more tightly-controlled elver season on the banks of the Union River in Ellsworth.
Consider, for a moment, elvers. Translucent. About the size of a Q-Tip. Born in the Sargasso Sea, somewhere in an endless swamp of seaweed. Carried by the current as larvae. Dumped into the gulf stream, pushed northward, propelling themselves - as juvenile glass eels now - into places like Blue Hill Bay and the fresh water of the Union River.
Paul Dow: "We got out here about a little before 7 - 6:30 or so - just to kind of check it out and see the spots that were open, hoping to get a spot along here."
It's Sunday, a little past noon now. Elver season is less than an hour old. The tide is low. And Paul Dow has just anchored his fyke net to some rocks at the waters edge.
"The top has floats on it. And as the tide comes in, it's going to raise these floats up," he says. "The hope is that the elvers come in with it and they go into your net."
Dow says he did well last year here, at this popular spot behind a construction company parking lot along the Union River in Ellsworth. He's not an experienced elver fishermen. But in some ways, Dow is emblematic of the changes that have forced the state to step in and seize tighter control of the glass eel fishery.
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