Eel will stay on the menu for Delaware watermen
Delaware's regulations for its American eel fishery are now in line with federal law.
Eel has long been regulated through a legislative process due to old loopholes in state code. Last fall, the state was found in noncompliance for eel -- and had to act to keep fishing open past March.
Now, the state has finished adopting new federal eel rules. DNREC fisheries manager John Clark says it sets a 9-inch minimum for commercially caught eels and standardizes aspects of eel pots.
And recreational fishermen can now only have 25 eels at a time, rather than 50. Eel season is relatively unrestricted and peaks in spring and fall.
"I call it the most important fishery in Delaware that nobody knows about," Clark says. "For several years, it was one of the only fin-fish species that Delaware was consistently in the top three or four states in terms of [commercial] landings.
"Our waters are particularly attractive to eels," he says, because of the influxes of fresh water where eels can live, and still access the sea to breed.
Plus, he says, they like to eat female horseshoe crabs -- but that's been why the fishery has shrunk in the past decade or so.
It's gone from $300,000 a year with about 100,000 pounds of eel caught in pots, to around half that size starting in 2007.
Clark says bait is just one of many financial pressures on commercial eelers.
"When you're eeling, and you've gone from a situation where you have an excellent bait that's pretty much free for the taking, and now you have these baits that you have to pay for and don't work as well, obviously it changes the economics of the situation," he says.
Most eels caught in the Mid-Atlantic are exported live for sale in Europe and Asia.