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Abstract

Until recently, elvers and glass eels were not commercially popular aquatic creatures. However, a tsunami and European ban depleted Asian supplies, which rapidly increased the demand for American elvers and glass eels. The increased demand for elvers has driven their price from hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollars per pound. This increased profit margin has caused many additional individuals to begin fishing for elvers in states in which elvers are numerous and widespread, including Maine. The initial increase in elver fishing began in 2012. By 2013, the impact of the increased fishing began to produce adverse effects on the Maine elver fishery. Because of these effects, the state legislature passed emergency, sweeping legislation in early 2013, days before the elver season was scheduled to begin. Although this legislation, and the regulations established thereunder, are applicable to all individuals harvesting elvers within Maine, the laws and regulations have had several unfavorable effects on Maine Indian tribal members. These effects are based on confusion regarding the applicability of laws that establish certain rights of the Maine Indian tribes, bands, or nations, and their relationship with the sweeping elver laws established in 2013. This Comment discusses the relationship between the State of Maine and Maine’s Native American tribes, and the intersection between the conversation of Native American heritage and the State’s interest in environmental protection. Part II discusses the lifecycle of the American eel and what distinguishes glass eels and elvers from the eel’s other life stages. Part III considers the recent increases in the popularity and value of elvers and glass eels. Part IV examines the peculiar rights of Maine’s Native American tribes and nations, and the process by which those rights were created. Part V reviews the recent changes in elver regulations that occurred in Maine and along the Atlantic Coast. Part VI discusses the ways in which Maine’s tribes have been impacted by the new regulations. Finally, Part VII determines whether the tribes and nations are excluded from the new regulations by determining whether they retained sovereignty over particular natural resources.

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