The first part of this Buzzfeed article about the weird world of eel harvesting in Maine was fascinating in the way that New Yorker rare egg collector article from a few months ago was fascinating: You can’t stop reading, but you don’t know why you care. Seems like a lot the eels you eat, regardless of if they’re from Japan, were originally caught in Maine on their way inland. Eels are born in the ocean, spend their lives in freshwater, then go back to the ocean to spawn before dying. I did not know that. The second part of this story gets jumbled with a lot of different people and issues being introduced to the story, but try to read at least the first several paragraphs.
Eel farmers need babies caught in the wild since no one’s reliably bred the species in captivity. They are reared in ponds like seedlings: Plant a farm with elvers and, in six months, a pound of elvers might yield 1,200 pounds of meat that then might, at $10 a pound, fetch $120,000. Seventy percent of eels, unagi, was sold in Japan, according to one estimate by the newspaper The Yomiuri Shimbun. James Prosek’s seminal book on the subject, Eels, reports that some 40% of eel eaten in a Manhattan sushi joint probably flew from Maine to Asia and back again. Scarcity drove the prices up and, stream-side, a pound of elvers sold for around $2,000. Rumor had it some fishermen were clearing nearly $100,000 a night.