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Solving Problems with Nature - Naturally

Certified Wildlife Biologist
Wildlife Author - Wildlife Lecturer - Wildlife Photographer
Non-Lethal Control of Bats since 1983

NH Nature

New Hampshire Nature Notes by Eric Orff

Friday 05/13/2011 Spring is Well Underway

Wow, what a difference a couple of days can make on the trees and shrubs. Leaves are popping by the minute around here. All my fruit trees are in bloom and bees are abuzz. Yes lots of bugs including flocks of black flies. Boy have they been thick in places. Especially at my camp in Maine over the weekend into this week.

And speaking of my camp. I headed up Sunday to open up my camp and sweep out the winters leavings. Mostly a few acorns scattered about and hidden away by the winter occupants. And the sheets of spider webs in the outhouse. These are the watchers of my place for 5 months each year. I hold no grudge.

But my big discovery was some 8 miles down river from the lake at the head of tide. I have seen numerous nets in the river each spring and I knew they were for catching baby eels, called elvers, just coming into fresh water after hatching in the Sargasso Sea some months before. I have caught adult eels in the lake much of my life including one in the early 1960's that was three feet long and weighed four and a half pounds. Now you need to know that it is only the female eels that ascend the rivers to the fresh water lakes above. Here they live and grow for 30 to 50 years before heading down river and out to the Sargasso Sea to spawn and die. Truly amazing animals. Then just as amazing their young somehow hatch and head north back to Maine to continue the cycle.

It is these juvenile eels that are much sought after by China. I had a chance to talk to some of the fishermen Monday morning. And boy was there lots to learn. The fishermen were dancing about with great excitement. The "eel season" had just opened the week before May 3rd. There were nearly a dozen nets below the bridge in town down a set of falls to the deeper water pier side. What I learned was that in just the 6 days into the season a pound of these baby eel went from $350 a pound to $950 Sunday morning. One of the fishermen I talked to sold just a coffee cup full the previous morning and was paid $300. Plus he said at night the shore is covered with fishermen with dip nets catching even more of those that are missed by the nets strung across the river. You have to wonder if any eels will be able to get up the river. There was a fishing frenzy going on here and up and down the Maine coast. This fellow said the dealer he sold to Sunday had already done a million dollars worth of business so far. Apparently Maine is the only state that allows the capture of these baby eels. So the demand is very high from China. They are shipped alive there.

I have always appreciated eels and I can't help but wonder if they can survive this onslaught. I know from talking to the NH Fish and Game folks that eel numbers on the coastal NH rivers have been on a decline the last decade.


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