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Glass Eel Gold Rush Casts Maine Fishermen against Scientists [Slide Show]

Sky-high prices for juvenile American eels have created conflict in Maine between fishermen and fisheries biologists over the fate of the species

By Annie Sneed

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A VIRTUAL GOLD RUSH:

Mainers Henry MacVane and Melissa Wiedmann fish for glass eels on a warm spring night. Glass eels, or “elvers,” are the juvenile life stage of the American eel and their market price has soared in recent years—as high as $2,600 a pound—due to high demand from Asia and diminished eel stocks in other parts of the world.....[ More ]

UP ALL NIGHT:

​The tides dictate when fishermen catch glass eels. Because the creatures are nocturnal the fishermen often stay up all night tending to their nets. Some employ stationary nets and others (like MacVane) use a dip net.....[ More ]

THE BESIEGED AMERICAN EEL:

Glass eels have brought astounding wealth to Maine fishermen and their communities but scientists are concerned that the American eel cannot withstand fishing pressure and myriad other threats, including habitat loss to dams and water pollution.....[ More ]

THE CATCH:

​MacVane clears debris and sand fleas from the aerated bucket of water that holds his valuable catch. He and other elver fishermen disagree with biologists—they say the glass eel fishery is healthy and that fishing has a minor impact on the species whereas other threats like dams pose a greater problem for eels.....[ More ]

CREATURE OF MYSTERY:

​Scientists are confident that the American eel population has dropped to dangerously low levels but they are unsure how much each threat—fishing, habitat loss, water pollution and more—harms the species.....[ More ]

KEYSTONE SPECIES:

Although not the most charismatic fish, the American eel plays a critical role in our ecosystem, and its loss would have wide-reaching consequences. “Eels are a keystone species,” says eel biologist James McCleave of the University of Maine, “because they’re so abundant.....[ More ]

A FATE UNKNOWN:

​The future of the American eel and Maine fishermen hangs in the balance. On August 7 a regional fisheries management board will decide on further fishing regulations for the American eel, possibly shutting down Maine’s glass eel fishery.....[ More ]

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