Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


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

October 24 • 2:00 AM

Congratulations, Your City Is Dying!

Don’t take population numbers at face value.


October 23 • 4:00 PM

Of Course Marijuana Addiction Exists

The polarized legalization debate leads to exaggerated claims and denials about pot’s potential harms. The truth lies somewhere in between.


October 23 • 2:00 PM

American Companies Are Getting Way Too Cozy With the National Security Agency

Newly released documents describe “contractual relationships” between the NSA and U.S. companies, as well as undercover operatives.


October 23 • 12:00 PM

The Man Who’s Quantifying New York City

Noah Davis talks to the proprietor of I Quant NY. His methodology: a little something called “addition.”


October 23 • 11:02 AM

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.


October 23 • 10:00 AM

The Psychology of Bribery and Corruption

An FBI agent offered up confidential information about a political operative’s enemy in exchange for cash—and they both got caught. What were they thinking?


October 23 • 8:00 AM

Ebola News Gives Me a Guilty Thrill. Am I Crazy?

What it means to feel a little excited about the prospect of a horrific event.


October 23 • 7:04 AM

Why Don’t Men Read Romance Novels?

A lot of men just don’t read fiction, and if they do, structural misogyny drives them away from the genre.


October 23 • 6:00 AM

Why Do Americans Pray?

It depends on how you ask.


October 23 • 4:00 AM

Musicians Are Better Multitaskers

New research from Canada finds trained musicians more efficiently switch from one mental task to another.


October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


October 22 • 4:00 AM

For Preschoolers, Spite and Smarts Go Together

New research from Germany finds greater cognitive skills are associated with more spiteful behavior in children.


October 21 • 4:00 PM

Why the Number of Reported Sexual Offenses Is Skyrocketing at Occidental College

When you make it easier to report assault, people will come forward.


October 21 • 2:00 PM

Private Donors Are Supplying Spy Gear to Cops Across the Country Without Any Oversight

There’s little public scrutiny when private donors pay to give police controversial technology and weapons. Sometimes, companies are donors to the same foundations that purchase their products for police.


October 21 • 12:00 PM

How Clever Do You Think Your Dog Is?

Maybe as smart as a four-year-old child?


October 21 • 10:00 AM

Converting the Climate Change Non-Believers

When hard science isn’t enough, what can be done?



October 21 • 8:00 AM

Education Policy Is Stuck in the Manufacturing Age

Refining our policies and teaching social and emotional skills will help us to generate sustained prosperity.


October 21 • 7:13 AM

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you’ve (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.


Follow us


Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

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