Fishermen Net Gold In Silvery Eels Sold To Asia | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Fishermen Net Gold In Silvery Eels Sold To Asia

Play associated audio

There's a gold rush under way on the East Coast of the U.S. for tiny baby eels known as elvers. Fishermen in Maine and South Carolina are reaping profits upward of $2,000 per pound for the fish that are considered a delicacy in Japan.

Elvers have an almost ghostly appearance in the water — their bodies are a cloudy white, skinny as a cocktail straw and no longer than your finger. They look like tiny snakes as they squiggle through the water.

But when elver fisherman Abden Simmons looks at them, he sees dollar signs.

Simmons, who lives in Lewiston, Maine, says he made more in the first week of elver fishing this year than he did for the entire season last year. After he catches them, they're shipped to countries like China, where they're grown to adulthood and then sold as a food to the Japanese.

A worldwide shortage has made the U.S. the primary source for the food. Last year, prices climbed to nearly $1,000 a pound. This year they doubled.

"I have a 5-gallon bucket, a dip net, and a Coleman lantern," he says. "It's not very sophisticated at all."

The best time to fish for elvers is when the tide comes in at night. And the warm glow of the lanterns attracts elvers to the water's surface.

"They're afraid of the moon and afraid of the sun, but they're not afraid of the Coleman lantern," Simmons says.

A few weeks into the season, rumors among elver fishermen are flying: A couple making $90,000 in one night. A buyer paying out $750,000 over the course of an evening.

Meanwhile, the elvers are migrating. They're born in the Sargasso Sea, then drift into the Gulf Stream, which carries them here. They swim upriver to growing areas, till they one day migrate back to the Sargasso to spawn.

What may have been a hot fishing spot a few days ago can quickly go cold. On a good night, Simmons will catch 2 pounds. Tonight, he weighs in at just under half a pound. "I probably made a week's pay in one night, for the average person," he says.

Elver fishermen tend to be secretive about their profits — they don't want to give away good fishing spots. Simmons' bounty tonight is better than he expected. But he'll soon follow the elvers upriver, where he hopes the profits will be even better.

Wight is a reporter for Maine Public Media.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

'Welcome To Braggsville' Isn't Quite 'Invisible Man,' But It's Close

T. Geronimo Johnson's latest follows four Berkeley students who take an American history class that leads to disaster. It's an ambitious book about race that wants to say something big about America.
NPR

Why Shark Finning Bans Aren't Keeping Sharks Off The Plate (Yet)

Fewer shark fins are being imported into Hong Kong, the epicenter of shark-fin soup, a culinary delicacy. But while the trade in shark fins may be down, the trade in shark meat is still going strong.
NPR

Immigrants Worry They'll Face Deportation After Deferred Action Delay

Some unauthorized immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens and green-card holders are worried they may be forced to leave the U.S. because a court ruling has put a hold on their deportation relief.
NPR

Internet Memes And 'The Right To Be Forgotten'

Becoming Internet-famous is a gold mine for some, a nightmare for others. The world of memes can pit free speech against the desire for privacy. And laws generally aren't keeping up, an expert says.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.