Eel shortage could be bad news for sushi lovers
MEMBERS of Maine's baby-eel fishing industry are expecting high prices for the tiny fish this year because of a shortage on the international market, and sushi lovers could end up feeling the pinch.
Maine is the only US state with a significant fishery for baby eels, or elvers.
The tiny, translucent eels are sold to Asian aquaculture companies to be raised to maturity for use as food.
They're a key piece of the worldwide supply chain for Japanese dishes such as unagi, and some eventually make it back to the US.
The eels sold for about $1300 per pound at the docks last year, about on par with an ounce of gold, and are already one of the most lucrative fisheries in the country on a per-pound basis.
Fishermen in Asia are seeing a poor harvest this year, and European eel fisheries are cracking down on poaching, said state Rep. Jeffrey Pierce, a Dresden Republican and consultant to the elver fishery.
That means Maine's elvers will be in higher demand, and prices could be higher for consumers.
"It was just a bad year in Asia," Pierce said.
"With Europe tightening up that market, and us already having tightened up, it should be a good year."
The elver fishing season begins March 22 and ends June 7.
They are fished by nets from rivers and streams and sold to dealers in a tightly regulated fishery that uses a swipe-card system to deter poaching. It takes more than 2000 elvers to make a pound.
Richie Akizaki, a sushi chef at Benkay in Portland, said he buys his eels from a New York distributor who has told him prices will likely be double the normal amount this summer.
"Eel prices are going to be really high this year," he said.