New Brunswick fishermen are hoping to cash in on the worldwide shortage of eels and the skyrocketing prices being paid for the sea creatures, but a biologist is urging more research to protect them and the lucrative fishery.
Although eels are not common on local restaurant menus, they are considered a delicacy in Asia and Europe and are highly sought after.
New Brunswick Minister of Fisheries Michael Olscamp said there has been an unprecedented jump in the value of exporting eels.
"My stats show $2 million in 2009, to about $15.6 [million] in 2011 — that's exciting," he said.
Alyre Chiasson, a biologist at the University of Moncton, said the shortage of eels is driving up the prices, particularly for young eels that can be grown to market size.
"I know historically, here in our region, a kilogram of what we call elvers, young eels — $800 to $900 a kilogram, but over in Japan, they'll pay $3,000 to $4,000," he said.
France Vautour, who fishes out of St. Louis de Kent, said the price for adult eels has also increased.
He said buyers were offering up to $4.25 a pound this summer. That's better than what he was being paid for lobster, he said.
But Chiasson worries the increased popularity may hurt the eel population.
"As of May of this year, the eel went from species of concern to threatened and what threatened means is they are on the decline," he said.
Not much is known about the eel population in the Maritimes, said Chiasson. He contends more research should be done.