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Mainers Send Their Elver Catch To Asia To Reach Market Size. Why Not Grow Eels Here?

Sam Richman, owner-chef of Sammy’s Deluxe restaurant in Rockland, with some full-grown American Unagi. He says his patrons tend to prefer it smoked, European style, rather than as Japanese sushi. Photo by Keith Shortall for Maine Public

Sam Richman, owner-chef of Sammy’s Deluxe restaurant in Rockland, with some full-grown American Unagi. He says his patrons tend to prefer it smoked, European style, rather than as Japanese sushi. Photo by Keith Shortall for Maine Public

When the elver season opens each spring, Maine fisherman Justin Jordan likes to try one out.

“I eat the first elver that I catch every year. Just for good luck for the season. It’s a little slimy and a little salty but it doesn’t taste like much, because they’re so small,” he says.

Sushi lovers will tell you full-grown eels, called unagi, are pretty tasty. That’s why Sara Rademaker started growing them a few years ago — in her basement.

“It was like dingy stones, a dirt floor and a glorified large aquarium with a couple of tanks. And also we had butchered a pig. So that was hanging. It was quite the scene with, like, an exposed lightbulb,” she says.

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