Maine Tribal Fishermen Lead Eel Restoration Project

By Paul Molyneaux.

On a cool May morning after Maine tribes have harvested their 21 percent of Maine’s 9,688-pound elver quota, Passamaquoddy fisherman Erik Francis empties his fyke nets and pours a little less than two ounces of elvers and glass eels into a bucket. “Both tides are in daylight right now,” he says. “So, they don’t move too much. I’ll do better in a few days.”

As one of three tribal fishermen licensed to fish eels for the restoration project initiated by Chief Amkuwiposohehs “Pos” Bassett, Francis will transport the eels above two dams to lakes in Passamaquoddy territory.

The project not only aims to help get elvers over the dams, but also help mature eels get through the dams, which are far more dangerous for them as they often get turned into sushi when passing through spinning hydro-electric turbines. “I trap and release the eels daily,” says Francis. “Always in the river of origin. In the fall we plan to trap the full-grown eels, big ones that are ready to go down river and take them and release them below the dams so that they can swim to sea.”

What happens beyond that in an ocean being affected by climate is beyond the control of the tribe. “We’re doing our part,” says Fred Moore III, a long-time fisheries leader in fisheries among east coast Native Tribes. To expand the project, Moore is working with Maliseet and Mi’kmaq tribal members in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia through the newly formed Wabanki Fisheries Association to share the ideology and techniques for harvesting elvers and moving them to safety above artificial barriers. “We’re sharing our thinking that we must to approach this in a manner consistent with cultural values,” says Moore. “So, we’ve been talking to them and providing technical support.” But Moore reports that so far, the Maliseet and Mi’kmaq fishers have been cautious about capturing and releasing eels due to the threat of arrest.