If you want to know why elver-related crime is on the rise in Maine (and elsewhere), look no further than the chart above, which shows just how valuable those wriggly little creatures have become in the past few years. As this dissection of the political tussle over fishing licenses reveals, the Asian appetite for baby eels is having a significant ripple effect on the Down East economy:
Landing records reflect the impact of market price on the size of Maine’s recent annual eel harvests. In 2008, Maine’s eel catch weighed in at 6,951 pounds, with a value of $1.5 million, or $216 a pound. By 2010, the take was down to 3,185 pounds with a market value of $585,000, or $184 a pound. Both the harvest and its value spiked in 2012 at 19,000 pounds worth $38 million at a record-high per-pound price of $2,000.
My hunch is that the elver bubble is set to pop, mostly because prices have reached the point where it makes more sense for restaurateurs to try and fool diners than buy the genuine article. What percentage of those who consume elvers at the end of the supply chain can really tell the difference between the bona fide foodstuff and a cheap imitation? Certainly far less than the warring factions in Maine might care to admit.