American eels, worth more than $2,100 per pound in 2015, may soon be added to the endangered species list, drastically limiting fishermen's ability to catch and sell them.
According to The Associated Press
, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said this week it would most likely announce its decision by the end of the month. Simultaneously, the Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy & Reliability in California said the eels have lost 80 percent of their habitat in recent years — largely due to dams that block their annual migrations.
"In our time this species has been going through a dramatic decline with very little regulatory oversight," said Rob Roy Ramey, an adviser to the group. "They're slimy, they're odd looking, they're eels. They're not warm and fuzzy and charismatic — this is like the passenger pigeon of our time."
The eels, called elvers when they're young, live up and down the eastern shores of the Americas, from Greenland to Venezuela.
In Maine, fishermen regularly sell a pound of elvers to Asian companies for over $2,000, a price that’s exploded since 2009, when they sold for $100. The Asian companies in turn use them for food, including sushi.
The Portland Press Herald reported
that "a sharp decline in their population across Europe in the 1990s" has led to the price increasing in the Americas.
Darrell Young, who co-directs the Maine Elver Fishermen’s Association, said that he hopes the eels are not listed under the Endangered Species Act.
"After the season closed this year, there were plenty of eels running up the brooks," said Young. "There’s going to be plenty of adult eels running out to the Sargasso Sea."
He added that the reason fishermen didn't reach their expected quotas this year was because of the cold weather, which shortened the spring fishing season.
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