The Federal Fisheries Department said five Mainers were arrested in southwestern Nova Scotia last weekend for illegally fishing for baby eels, also known as elvers. The fisheries officers patrolling unauthorized elver fishing arrested the individuals, adding to the evidence of groups from outside the province flocking to rivers to catch the high-valued species.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) announced in their news release on Wednesday that the officers confiscated nearly 3 ½ kilograms of elvers during the arrest in the Meteghan area of Digby County, along with a vehicle and four nets. However, they did not disclose whether the individuals would face charges. The department also revealed that they seized 13 kilograms of elvers from the exact location, but this was unrelated to the arrest, and the eels were returned to the river. 

In Canada alone, 95 arrests, 21 vehicles, 233 nets, and more than 73 kilograms of elvers have been seized.

The DFO has arrested dozens of people since the baby eel fishery was deemed canceled for the spring season this past month; according to CBC Canada, the federal government admitted that they could not manage the lucrative but chaotic fishery. In an early March statement, Fisheries and Oceans Minister Diane Lebouthillier stated that significant quantities of elvers are being fished illegally and that there was harassment, threats, and violence between harvesters and fishery officers.

“In the light of all these considerations, it is clear that without significant changes, the risks to the conservation of the species cannot be addressed, and orderly management of the fishery cannot be restored,” she noted.

The state of Maine has its own regulated elver fishery and is very strict with the number of licenses allowed and the quota for the species. Stanley King, a commercial license holder with Atlantic Elver Fishery, told CBC that people from Maine have been coming to Nova Scotia to fish for elvers illegally. Still, to his knowledge, this is the first time someone from the U.S. has been arrested.

“If you don’t have a license, or you’ve caught all your allotted, I’m sure these people, who have no respect for the law, are looking for other places to ply their trade,” King shared.

Though Minister Lebouthillier shut down the fishery before it could get underway, unauthorized fishing had begun. Mi’kmaq has claimed a treaty right to fish for elvers outside of federal regulations in Nova Scotia. Henry Bear, a Maliseet leader based in Maine and a harvester, shared that the Maliseet people have the right to fish in their unceded aboriginal territory, according to the 1760 Treaty with Great Britain and the 1776 Treaty with the U.S.

King shared that Indigenous people from Maine claim a right to catch elvers along Nova Scotia rivers. Still, there are others from the U.S. with no Indigenous background who are simply taking advantage of what he calls poor DFO enforcement in the past.

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Carli is a Content Specialist for National Fisherman. She comes from a fourth-generation fishing family off the coast of Maine. Her background consists of growing her own business within the marine community. She resides on one of the islands off the coast of Maine while also supporting the lobster community she grew up in.

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