Sunday, January 5, 2020

Regulating Success

The title of the video is a bit misleading: "America's Hottest Black Market: Inside the Eel Gold Rush." The video doesn't really go all that deeply into the black market for juvenile American eels, know as elvers or glass eels. It's more about the local elver fishing industry, and some of the conflicts that have been created. It's an interesting video.

The part that most caught my attention is at about the 7:14 mark. A local elver fisherman is being interviewed and he says: "It picked up around here back in the early '90s, but people have been doing it for a long time and getting fifteen, twenty dollars a pound. But the minute it hit a thousand dollars a pound, it's 'Oh, well wait a minute, they're endangered'." The point is never revisited, which is kind of a shame, because I think that it speaks to the understanding that a number of people in agriculture have of environmental regulation; that it's a tool to prevent them from taking full advantage of the resources available to them to better themselves.

The way the Maine eel fishery works is roughly like this: The fishermen catch the small juvenile eels on their way into local rivers from the ocean, and ship them to the far east. According to the Maine state government's page on The Maine Eel and Elver Fishery, "In recent years, market demand has increased dramatically. Elvers are highly valued in the far east (Japan, China, Taiwan, and Korea) where they are cultured and reared to adult size for the food fish market. Due to recent intense market demand, elvers have now become the most valuable marine resource in terms of price per pound which, in 2015, was over $2,000." One can see how this might be a problem for the local eel population, since the eels are never able to return to the Atlantic Ocean to spawn.

But for people with licenses to catch the eels, the sudden increase in demand, which appears to due to a combination of the destruction of Japanese eel farms after the tsunami in 2011 and the closure of the European eel fishery due to overfishing, has been a chance to cash in.

Now, fishermen can support their families, pay off taxes, help put their kids through college and buy new cars or tractors for their farms. “Elver fishing dumped millions of dollars into a poor state,” says fisherman Jeff Pierce, head of the Maine Elver Fisherman Association, “It’s a huge success story. It’s given people pride.”
Glass Eel Gold Rush Casts Maine Fishermen against Scientists
It's little wonder that they see attempts to prevent the overharvest of the fish as a threat to that pride and success. It's the idea that there is a deliberate intent to that threat that may be a problem.

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