The elver fishery has gotten a lot of press lately, well in Maine at least. In recent years the price of elvers has climbed to about $2000 a pound, but that’s not why I wanted to photograph the elver fishermen. Fishing for elvers (juvenile eels) is unlike most other commercial fisheries, elvers run up the rivers from the sea at night, near the high tide. They’re attracted to light, so the fishermen all come prepared with Coleman lanterns which are held, or hung just above the waterline.
Elvers are tiny and mostly clear, and can hardly been seen even up close. I met up with Abden and April Simmons at midnight Sunday to document their nightly elver fishing ritual. To catch elvers small dip nets are affixed to long poles, and held just under the water. Some fishermen fish from the banks of the river, stretching their nets into the current just offshore. Other fishermen, like Abden and April sit on jetties or docks, and use their feet to guide the poles in the water, making figure-eights with their nets underwater to catch the passing eels. They pull the nets up every few minutes, inspect them for eels, then transfer their catch to nearby buckets. At dawn, the night’s catch is taken to the buyers. The eels end up travelling half-way around the world to Asia where they are raised to adulthood for human consumption.
Throughout the season, they sit in the cold, dark night silently swishing their nets for hours on end. In the rain and snow, under the stars and northern lights, silently pushing the net poles back and forth, back and forth with their feet, hoping.
Lights of fishermen on the riverbank upstream.