Maine is delaying the start of its $20 million elver fishery for at least two weeks as part of its efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The 11-week fishing season was set to begin Sunday, but Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Pat Keliher decided to close the fishery for now to avoid the kind of crowded conditions on Maine’s rivers and in fishing shops that have become a hallmark of elver fishing season.

“The coronavirus pandemic continues to impact Maine’s fisheries in ways we could not have imagined,” Keliher said Friday. “It has become clear that the typical crowded conditions could not only allow transmission, but also speed the spread of the disease throughout the state as fishermen traveled along the coast to harvest and sell elvers.”

The state will reevaluate conditions in two weeks to determine if conditions allow for a safe opening of the season.

“I know that this is devastating news to individuals who rely on this fishery,” Keliher said. “I hope that we will be able to allow fishing to resume later this season, and that fishermen will have the opportunity to catch the quota they have been allocated.”

Last year, Maine landed 9,620 pounds of elvers, also known as glass eels, valued at $20.1 million, which makes the species the most valuable landed on a per-pound basis. The small, young American eels are arriving from the Sargasso Sea, where they were born, to North American rivers, where they can live for up to 25 years.

The elver fishery is relatively new, begun in the 1970s. It has boomed in recent years due to the high value of the species in Asia, where they are raised to adult size for use as food, especially sushi. Maine’s 1,800 elver fishermen use fine mesh funnel-shaped fyke nets, hand-dip nets and eel traps to collect elvers as they ascend the rivers.

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