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Scientists Gather to Discuss Eel Aquaculture Development

19 November 2014

US - More than 30 marine science experts and industry leaders from the US and around the world gathered at the University of New England (UNE) on October 16-17, forming the Northeast Eel Aquaculture Team (NEAT) to assess the possibility of developing eel aquaculture.

If feasible, eel aquaculture production could lead to a significant increase in marine jobs and revenue for Maine and greater New England.

The NEAT conference organized a round table of university professors, eel aquaculture experts, fishermen and marketing experts to review the current state of European and North American eel biology, ecology, and aquaculture.

Currently, glass eels (elvers) are harvested in Maine, shipped overseas to Asia to be grown in aquaculture ponds and tanks, and then end up back in the US as sushi. If eel aquaculture production occurred domestically, they could be processed into valuable US products for domestic sushi markets and could help restore North America’s wild adult eel population.

Keynote speakers at the conference included Ep Eding, a European expert in eel fisheries and aquaculture from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and Professor Ken Oliveira from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

“Eels are the second most valuable fishery, after lobsters, in the state of Maine,” said Barry Costa-Pierce, Ph.D., Henry L. and Grace Doherty Professor, chair of the Marine Sciences Department and director of the Marine Science Center at UNE.

“Elvers are only fished commercially in Maine and South Carolina, and in 2012-2013 prices skyrocketed to more than $1,000 per pound. It’s extremely important that we work together to not only ensure a sustainable eel fishery, but also to add value to the resources we have here in Maine by developing eel aquaculture. We’re going to gather again to continue our discussions about this, as well as develop new opportunities for grants and industry partnerships at the upcoming conference in Portland in January.”

Findings from the conference are available online and will be discussed at the Northeast Aquaculture Conference and Expo (NACE) to be held January 14-16, 2015 in Portland. The NEAT workshop was funded by the USDA Northeast Regional Aquaculture Center and by the University of New England’s Marine Science Center, a university-wide center for excellence.

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