Menus Subscribe Search

The Invisible Sea Creatures Worth More Than Uranium, Silver, and Kobe Beef Combined

• April 05, 2013 • 2:50 PM

Baby eels: the new hot thing to exploit for financial gain.

There is something happening in Maine, which is notable in itself because, well, Maine. But it’s also notable because it involves Native Americans, the government, and obviously lots of money. Oh, and these crazy-expensive, glass-colored baby eels.

So, these eels. They’re called elvers, and in North America they’re usually born near the Bahamas and then carried up the East Coast—as far north as Canada—by currents. The Economist says they “look rather like clear noodles.” They’re worth about $2,600 a pound. For reference: uranium is around $42.25 per pound, silver $445 per pound, $500 for Kobe beef, and  $1,300 for blue fin tuna. (In case you’re wondering, it’s somewhere around $63,502.90 for a pound of cocaine, but I don’t know why you would be wondering that, so never mind.) With export restrictions for European elvers, and a growing demand in Asia, the price of North American elvers has shot up over the past year or two. More from The Economist this past December:

Restrictions on exports of European elvers, and a shortage of them in Japan after last year’s tsunami, have stoked demand for the American variety, often sold to Chinese or South Korean buyers who rear and sell them as food. In Maine, the commissioner of marine resources estimated in August that this year’s haul of about 18,000 pounds had fetched nearly $40 million, more than five times last year’s figure. In 2010 elver exports totaled just 3,158 pounds, valued at $585,000.

This triggered a sort of gold rush, sending hundreds of people with nets into streams where the so-called glass eels typically migrate at night from the Atlantic Ocean to freshwater lakes and ponds. The state issued some 400 elver-fishing licenses, and an Indian tribe provided 200 more to its members, but poaching remained widespread despite stiffer penalties enacted by legislators after prices started to climb last year. Colonel Joe Fessenden, Maine’s chief of marine law enforcement, says the poaching this year was “unbelievable,” with well over 300 documented violations, the most he has ever seen.

Now, add that to the latest issue in Maine. The state is only allowed to issue 744 licenses. The Pammasaquody tribe were given the right to 200 of those licenses, but they say they’ve sold 525, while the state itself has issued around 400 more—all of which comes out to something bigger than 744. And yet, the U.S. government, which set that 744 number, has decided they don’t care.

Here’s an unlikely outcome to all of this: something good.

There’s the conflict between Maine and the Pammasaquodies, which goes way back and beyond the elvers, and then there are the elvers themselves. Not surprisingly, the elver population in Maine is dropping, and there’s a pending decision—and much pressure in favor—of the American eel being listed as an endangered species. A commission of 13 Atlantic states, which actually determined that the population of elvers is depleted, will meet in May in D.C. to determine how to and whether or not to change fishery laws of elvers—and whether or not to ban it outright.

(Via Brendan Koerner)

Ryan O'Hanlon
Senior Digital Editor Ryan O’Hanlon joined Pacific Standard from Outside, where he was an online editor. He is a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross, and his writing has appeared in Grantland, the New York Times Magazine, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @rwohan.

More From Ryan O'Hanlon

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

August 22 • 4:00 PM

The Invention of the Illegal Immigrant

It’s only fairly recently that we started to use the term that’s so popular right now.



August 22 • 2:00 PM

What Can U.S. Health Care Learn From the Ebola Outbreak?

A conversation with Jeanine Thomas, patient advocate, active member of ProPublica’s Patient Harm Facebook Community, and founder and president of the MRSA Survivors Network.


August 22 • 1:22 PM

Two Executions and the Unity of Mourning

The recent deaths of Michael Brown and James Foley, while worlds apart, are both emblematic of the necessity for all of us to fight to uphold the sanctity of human dignity and its enduring story.


August 22 • 10:00 AM

Turbo Paul: Art Thief Turned Art Crime Ombudsman

There’s art theft, there’s law enforcement, and, somewhere in between, there’s Turbo Paul.


August 22 • 8:00 AM

When Climate Change Denial Refutes Itself

The world is warming—and record-cold winters are just another symptom.


August 22 • 6:17 AM

The Impossibility of the Night Shift

Many night workers get “shift-work sleep disorder.” And no one knows how to treat it.


August 22 • 6:00 AM

Long Live Short Novels

Christopher Beha’s Arts & Entertainments comes in at less than 300 pages long, which—along with a plot centered on a sex-tape scandal—makes it a uniquely efficient pleasure.


August 22 • 4:00 AM

Why ‘Nature Versus Nurture’ Often Doesn’t Matter

Sometimes it just doesn’t make any sense to try to separate the social and the biological.


August 21 • 4:00 PM

Julie Chen Explains Why She Underwent Westernizing Surgery

The CBS news anchor and television personality’s story proves that cosmetic surgeries aren’t always vanity projects, even if they’re usually portrayed that way.


August 21 • 2:37 PM

How the Brains of Risk-Taking Teens Work

There’s heightened functional connectivity between the brain’s emotion regulator and reason center, according to a recent neuroscience paper.


August 21 • 2:00 PM

Cracking Down on the Use of Restraints in Schools

Federal investigators found that children at two Virginia schools were being regularly pinned down or isolated and that their education was suffering as a result.


August 21 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, School Principal?

Noah Davis talks to Evan Glazer about why kids aren’t getting smarter and what his school’s doing in order to change that.



August 21 • 10:00 AM

Why My Neighbors Still Use Dial-Up Internet

It’s not because they want to. It’s because they have no other choice.


August 21 • 8:15 AM

When Mothers Sing, Premature Babies Thrive

Moms willing to serenade pre-term infants help their babies—and themselves.


August 21 • 8:00 AM

To Fight the Obesity Epidemic Americans Will Have to First Recognize That They’re Obese

There is a void in the medical community’s understanding of how families see themselves and understand their weight.


August 21 • 6:33 AM

One Toxic Boss Can Poison the Whole Workplace

Office leaders who bully even just one member of their team harm everyone.


August 21 • 6:00 AM

The Fox News Effect

Whatever you think of its approach, Fox News has created a more conservative Congress and a more polarized electorate, according to a series of recent studies.


August 21 • 4:00 AM

Do Children Help Care for the Family Pet?

Or does mom do it all?


August 20 • 4:00 PM

Why Can’t Conservatives See the Benefits of Affordable Child Care?

Private programs might do a better job of watching our kids than state-run programs, but they’re not accessible to everyone.


August 20 • 2:00 PM

Oil and Gas Companies Are Illegally Using Diesel Fuel in Hundreds of Fracking Operations

An analysis by an environmental group finds hundreds of cases in which drillers used diesel fuel without obtaining permits and sometimes altered records disclosing they had done so.


August 20 • 12:00 PM

The Mystery of Britain’s Alien Big Cats

In a nation where the biggest carnivorous predator is a badger, why are there so many reported sightings of large cats?


August 20 • 10:00 AM

Death Row in Arizona: Where Human Experimentation Is the Rule, Not the Exception

Recent reports show that chemical roulette is the state’s M.O.


August 20 • 9:51 AM

Diversity Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Perception of group diversity depends on the race of the observer and the extent to which they worry about discrimination.


Follow us


The Impossibility of the Night Shift

Many night workers get “shift-work sleep disorder.” And no one knows how to treat it.

How the Brains of Risk-Taking Teens Work

There's heightened functional connectivity between the brain's emotion regulator and reason center, according to a recent neuroscience paper.

When Mothers Sing, Premature Babies Thrive

Moms willing to serenade pre-term infants help their babies—and themselves.

One Toxic Boss Can Poison the Whole Workplace

Office leaders who bully even just one member of their team harm everyone.

Diversity Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Perception of group diversity depends on the race of the observer and the extent to which they worry about discrimination.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014 fast-food-big-one
Subscribe Now

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.