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Decision postponed on new rules for eel fishery

Group formed to gather more data

These glass eels were caught in Maine’s Penobscot River.

Fred Field for The Boston Globe

These glass eels were caught in Maine’s Penobscot River.

PORTLAND, Maine — Regulators on Tuesday postponed making a decision on new rules for Maine’s lucrative American eel fishery.

The eel management board of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission was scheduled to vote on proposed regulations for glass, yellow, and silver eel fisheries from Maine to Florida. But the board decided to delay a vote until August and form a group to gather more information about glass eels, which are baby eels known as elvers.

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Options that were under consideration for Maine’s elver fishery included keeping the status quo, closing the fishery, or setting a catch quota — or a combination thereof.

Tuesday’s meeting took place in Alexandria, Va.

The debate is being closely watched by Maine fishermen who catch elvers as they swim up coastal rivers each spring and by dealers who sell the alien-looking creatures to fish farms in Asia, where they are grown to market size.

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Catch prices in Maine have spiked in the past couple of years to more than $2,000 a pound. Last year’s harvest was worth $38 million, making it the second most-valuable fishery in Maine.

The proposed regulations are the result of an assessment that concluded the American eel population is technically depleted, probably because of a combination of overfishing, habitat loss from the damming of rivers, pollution, mortality from passing through hydroelectric turbines, and possibly disease.

Separate rules are being considered for glass, yellow, and silver eels, which are all the same eel but at different life stages.

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