Maine is implementing a new lottery system for licenses to fish for baby eels, or elvers, in the 2018 season.

Elvers have become a major 10-week springtime fishery in Maine as the value of juvenile eels on the worldwide sushi market has boomed in recent years. Licensed fishermen earned an average of $1,302 per pound this year, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources. Fishermen netted 9,282 pounds for the season, earning a reported $12.08 million and leaving about 334 pounds of quota on the table.

The elvers — about 2,000 make a pound — are shipped live throughout Asia where they are raised in aquaculture ponds and later harvested for the seafood market.

Industry members and lawmakers say the fishery needs a way to bring new people in, as a large portion of the state’s elver fishermen are nearing retirement age.

The law authorizes up to 425 elver fishing licenses a year, according to AP reports. The application fee to enter the lottery costs $35, and a resident license will cost $205 if an entrant wins. Non-resident licenses will cost $542.

The law is expected to pass this fall and states the first lottery could be held in February 2018.

Maine and South Carolina are the only U.S. states with elver fisheries.

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Samuel Hill is the former associate editor for National Fisherman. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine where he got his start in journalism at the campus’ newspaper, the Free Press. He has also written for the Bangor Daily News, the Outline, Motherboard and other publications about technology and culture.

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