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Citing poaching, violent incidents, Ottawa says elver fishery won’t open this year

The federal fisheries minister says the lucrative elver fishery will stay closed for the 2024 season.

Diane Lebouthillier says confrontations and incidents of violence have created an “immediate threat” to public safety and management of the fishery.

She also cites the need to conserve the American eel.

Elvers are very young and translucent eels that migrate up coastal rivers in the Maritimes in the spring, where they can be easily caught in nets or buckets.

The government says fisheries officers will enforce the ban and are patrolling rivers, facilities and export points to stop unauthorized harvest, sale and export.

Officers arrested five people for unauthorized harvest of elvers last week.

Lebouthillier said in a statement Monday that recent years have seen “significant quantities of elvers being fished illegally, jeopardizing the conservation of the species.”

Elvers are typically sold live to aquaculture operations in China and Japan, where they are grown for food, and prices reached as high as $5,000 per kilogram in 2022.

The species was designated as threatened in 2012 by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

On Monday, Lebouthillier cited “a number of confrontations and incidents of violence creating an immediate threat to the management of the fishery and public safety.”

Last year, the federal government closed the fishery on April 15 after reports of violence related to unauthorized fishing, as well as accusations of assault and even shots fired.

Lebouthillier previously said problems with the fishery could be solved with new regulations covering Indigenous fishers, licensing, exporting and the tracking of legally caught eels, but those would not be in place before the 2024 season.