A lottery will decide who gets to fish for Maine’s lucrative baby eels

American glass eels
American glass eels from Ellsworth, Maine.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

The state of Maine is allowing nine people to participate in the fishing industry that harvests baby eels, which are among the most valuable natural resources in the state.

Baby eels, called elvers, are harvested so they can be used as seed stock by Asian aquaculture companies. They are typically eventually used in Japanese food. The eels were worth more than $2,300 per pound in Maine in 2018.

It is just past midnight, rain clouds stalking a full moon, and Julie Keene is out on a muddy riverbank in thigh-high rubber boots and a camouflage jacket, a headlamp strapped over her hair.

The Maine Department of Marine Resources is planning to hold a lottery for the right to apply for an elver fishing license. The department will accept applications to participate in the lottery from Thursday to Feb. 21.

The elver fishing season runs from March 22 to June 7. The state caps the number of licenses at 425, and the licenses that are available this year are the result of fishermen not renewing.