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State closes commercial menhaden fishery, drawing concerns from lobstermen

In Maine, menhaden are primarily used as lobster bait.
Murray Carpenter
Maine Public
In Maine, menhaden are primarily used as lobster bait.

Maine's commercial menhaden season will close Sunday, which could have implications for Maine lobstermen who depend on the fish as an affordable source of bait.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission sets a series of quotas for the commercial menhaden fishery in the Northeast, including a small-scale harvest once various thresholds have been reached. Menhaden are also referred to as pogies.

“Maine lobstermen are extremely disappointed to see the pogy fishery close since the resource is healthy and there are still plenty of fish to catch in Maine," Patrice McCarron, executive director for the Maine Lobstermen's Association, said in an email.

Mike Dassatt of the Downeast Lobstermen's Association said having fresh-caught menhaden alleviates the need to pay for more expensive sources of bait.

"Because of the high cost of herring and rockfish and things like that, most of the lobster fishery is using menhaden," said Dassatt. "It's been a good boost for alternative bait to be used."

Dassatt doesn't have a menhaden license but said he likes to buy fresh-caught pogies for his own bait. But now that the pogy fishing season is about to end, he believes the price for alternative baits will go up even more as the demand increases.

According to the Maine's Department of Marine Resources, which notified commercial menhaden harvesters of the season's end earlier this week, Maine has been allocated 2.2 million pounds since 2018. But landings have often exceeded 20 million pounds through a combination of episodic events and the small-scale harvest.

Maine fishermen landed 170% more menhaden during the first 17 days of the small-scale harvest compared to the same time last year. The department said the increase could be partly due to more participants, brought on by recent changes in the requirements for fishermen to keep a commercial menhaden license.

McCarron urged fishermen to advocate for a higher menhaden quota for Maine. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission recently released a proposal that considers changes to Maine's allocation under the Northeast menhaden management plan.