07 January 2020

Harvesting elvers

"In the dark of the night, a group of fishermen huddles around a net. They’re gathered at a riverbank in Ellsworth, Maine, collecting one of the most lucrative seafood in the world: elvers, or baby glass eels. A 5-gallon bucket brimming with these translucent creatures is worth $50,000...

Freshwater eels are a highly-coveted delicacy in Asian cuisine. In Japan, the world’s top consumer of eels, elvers are grown from their “ghost in the water” juvenile stage—as Sibley put it in the film—to adulthood, when they are killed and served as unagi. Little is known about the eel lifecycle, however, so they can’t be bred in captivity and factory-farmed. The Asian aquaculture industry instead relies on wild-caught elvers from rivers and coastal waters.

In the past, this Asian market was for the most part fed by European and Japanese eels. American eels were worth around $24 per pound, just a fraction of international eel sales. But European and Japanese eel populations have declined by 90 percent since the ’80s. In 2010, the European eel was listed as critically endangered, leading the European Union to ban all exports. Then, in 2011, a massive earthquake rocked Japan, destroying the country’s major aquaculture operations. By 2012, global demand for eels had skyrocketed the price for a single pound of elvers to $2,000...

Meanwhile, the fate of the species hangs in the balance. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has red-listed and declared all three species of freshwater eel to be endangered. The American eel is precipitously in decline; the population has dropped to 1% of its highest levels.

“This is a universal story,” Morrison told me, “about how we mismanage natural resources in the global economy.”
More at The Atlantic.


  1. uh. five gallons of gold (either the weight of the eels in five gallons, or a five gallon bucket full of gold) is way more than 50k?
    I just checked, one kg of gold is almost exactly 50k usD.

  2. I've suggested, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that an ecologically friendly way to deal with invasive lampreys in the Great Lakes would be to promote them as haute cuisine.
    It really is sad, though, when any species becomes so desirable its existence is threatened.

  3. https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/radiolab/articles/silky-love

    About the mystery of procreation of eels.


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