PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Federal fisheries regulators are monitoring the dispute between the state of Maine and the Passamaquoddy tribe over the harvest of lucrative glass eels but have no plans to intervene.
State law allows the tribe to issue 200 licenses to catch the eels, known as elvers, which sell for up to $2,000 a pound. But tribal leaders issued more than 500 licenses, claiming the state doesn’t have authority over the tribe on fishing matters.
Fisheries officials are concerned that fishermen targeting young eels as they migrate up rivers could harm the fishery, but regulators have shut down a fishery only once.
‘‘The commission and member states do try to work together so that it does not get to that point,’’ Kate Taylor, senior fisheries management plan coordinator for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, told the Portland Press Herald (http://bit.ly/10DWzw9 ).
Tribal leaders traveled to Augusta this week to meet with state officials. The meeting didn’t lead to a breakthrough, but both sides agreed to continue talking. Both sides are working hard on a peaceful solution, said Fred Moore, the tribe’s spokesman for fisheries matters.
Elvers have shot up in value with a catch last year of $40 million, making the tiny eels second only to lobster as Maine’s most valuable fishery. Most of the catch is shipped to Asia, where the eels are raised in farm ponds to market size.
There used to be no cap on how many eel-fishing licenses the Passamaquoddy tribe could issue. But the Legislature, concerned about a free-for-fall in the fishery, passed a law last month limiting the tribe to 200 licenses. The state this year issued 432 licenses to non-tribal fishermen.
All told, Maine is limited to 744 licenses and 1,242 pieces of gear under the federal management plan, and is now out of compliance, officials said.
A stock assessment conducted for the commission in May determined that eel populations were already depleted because of a variety of factors.
Information from: Portland Press Herald, http://www.pressherald.com