A surfeit of eels land NH man in hot water


In what may have been one of the more slippery cases in state history, the Maine Marine Patrol last week nabbed a New Hampshire man with 41 pounds of elvers – young eels – worth more than $80,000.

Phillip Parker, 41, of Candia, N.H., was caught with the brood – the largest such case in the history of the Maine Marine Patrol – without a state “elver-harvesting license,” according to the Bangor Daily News.

Lest one think harvesting baby eels is a penny-ante business, elvers sell for $2,000 per pound, the paper added.

Demand for American elvers has skyrocketed since Japan’s devastating 2011 tsunami and after restrictions were placed on European elver exports, according to the Manchester (NH) Union Leader.

“They are often sold to Chinese or South Korean buyers, who rear them to adulthood and sell them for food,” the publication reported.

The American Eel, which is found along the East Coast of North America, has a fascinating life cycle.

It hatches far offshore in the Sargasso Sea in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. Young eels then drift with ocean currents and migrate inland into streams, rivers and lakes.

The journey can take many years to complete and some eels will travel 4,000 miles.

After reaching a body of fresh water, eels mature for approximately 10 to 25 years before migrating back to the Sargasso Sea in order to lay eggs and complete their life cycle.

Henry I of England: Too many eels?

Henry I of England: Too many eels?

Maine Department of Maine Resource officials noted that the state’s $2,000 penalty for illegal possession of elvers may be insufficient.

The marine patrol sold the confiscated elvers and will hold the money pending outcome of the case, according to the Daily News.

Parker’s vehicle, trailer and equipment for storing and transporting live elvers were also seized. He is scheduled to appear in Newport, Maine, District Court at the end of May.

Maine law prohibits the possession of elvers without a valid license. Maine and South Carolina are the only two states with an elver fishery.

In 2012, 18,000 pounds of elvers was caught, worth approximately $38 million.

With such profits to be made, officials said rampant poaching has resulted, according to the Union Leader.

The Maine Marine Patrol recorded over 300 documented violations in 2012.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is currently considering listing the species as endangered. That could mean the banning of all harvesting of American eel.

Of course, no matter what Parker’s fate, he’ll probably fare better than Henry I, noted for dying in 1135 from ingesting a “surfeit of eels.” Of course, it was actually an abundance of eel-like lampreys that did in the English monarch.

(Top: Dozens of elvers, approximately two to three inches long.) 

4 thoughts on “A surfeit of eels land NH man in hot water

  1. I did some electrical work years ago at a dock close to the mouth of the James River and even then (late 70s – early 80s)eels were a high dollar commodity for sales in Asia (may have been Japan – don’t remember). That makes me wonder about Virginia laws concerning elvers.

    • I’ve caught both eels and lampreys and can’t imagine purposely eating either. I never realized they had such a long life cycle until I pulled some research for this post. I can see why catching 40-plus pounds of tiny eels – it must take many hundred, if not more, to make a pound – could be potentially devastating to a species if it’s life cycle is 10-25 years.

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