Slippery Business

Slippery Business

Photograph by Michael D. Wilson

A changing climate means changing fisheries, and if we have smart young people thinking about farming oysters or clams, or developing a bay scallop industry, or growing amazing eel for the sushi trade, then that’s interesting, and we should be checking that out.

— Guest Editor Sam Sifton

Every spring, fishermen pull elvers — baby eels — from Maine rivers by the netful as the squiggly, toothpick-size fish swim from ocean to lakes. At market, a pound of them — about 2,000 elvers — can go for more than $2,500. The buyers? Fish farms in Asia, where there’s a big appetite for adult eel. But Rockland resident Sara Rademaker is working to keep elvers here via her company, American Unagi, the only eel-farming venture in Maine. “The fish is already connected to our economy, and I thought it’d be even cooler to connect a year-round aquaculture facility to a seasonal fishery,” she says. Rademaker currently raises her eels in tanks at UMaine’s Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research, in Franklin, and she recently announced plans to break ground on a facility of her own in Waldoboro. A baby eel is worth a little over $1, but an adult might be worth almost 10 times that. “It seemed like a no-brainer to grow them here,” she says.

Willy Blackmore

Willy Blackmore is the managing editor of the website Popula, and he writes about food, culture, and the environment. He lives with his family in Hope.