Maine made bait fishermen and lobstermen happy Monday when it reopened its pogy fishery after concluding there is still enough menhaden left in the Gulf of Maine to keep the population healthy.

Those who hunt for nearshore schools of the flat, oily-fleshed silver fish – the second most popular lobster bait in Maine after herring – must follow strict new rules to prevent unusual damage or imminent depletion of the Atlantic menhaden. If they limit their fishing days to three and their catch to no more than 120,000 pounds a week, Maine fishermen can use up the remaining 2.3 million-pound quota allotted to Maine, Rhode Island and New York during a so-called “episodic” fishing event, when pogies are deemed unusually plentiful in New England waters.

The Maine Department of Marine Resources closed the traditionally quiet fishery on Aug. 5 after initial landing reports indicated the state had used up its usual pogy quota of 166,000 pounds a year and was racing through an extra 3.7 million “episodic event” pounds given to qualifying New England states much faster than expected. With the herring shortage already creating a tight bait market, DMR didn’t want to risk running out of pogies just as the lobster season peaks, when the state’s biggest commercial fishery, with a value of nearly $500 million in landings, need them most. Any overage could also trigger severe federal penalties.

Upon additional review, however, DMR determined that Maine fishermen had not actually caught as many pogies as it had originally believed, that “there is biomass still available” and the fishery should be reopened, according to the emergency rules. Pogy fishermen must declare their participation, and their single fishing vessel, no later than noon Thursday. They can fish Tuesday through Thursday, three days a week, and land no more than 120,000 pounds a week. There is a bycatch exception for those landing up to 2,000 pounds of menhaden a week while fishing for other species.

Despite anecdotal reports of strong lobster landings and prices this season, lobstermen have been struggling to find suitable bait to fill the bags used to lure lobsters into their traps. The offshore supply of fresh Atlantic herring, the go-to bait for most Maine lobstermen, has been in short supply, driving prices up as much as 30 percent in late July. The shortage triggered near-shore fishing restrictions to try to stretch out the summer herring catch in hopes of keeping bait bags full as Maine’s lobster season hits its peak.

With herring getting scarce and expensive, lobstermen have turned to other bait for relief, especially the pogy. A state survey shows it’s the No. 2 bait fish among Maine lobstermen.


Maine fishermen had never landed the state’s entire pogy quota, but this year they had caught all of that and a bit more by July 31. That is when the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the federal program that oversees both the herring and the pogy catch on the East Coast, granted Maine access into the episodic event fishery, which is triggered when a New England state has used up all of its regular quota, can prove there is still an abundance of pogies in local waters and implements strict rules to prevent overfishing the population. Maine used industry observations and landings data to prove the fish’s abundance in local waters.

New York and Rhode Island had received entry into the episodic event fishery for menhaden in May, according to Megan Ware, the head of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s menhaden program. When Maine was approved for episodic fishing on July 31, 3.5 million pounds of the 3.7 million pounds extra episodic quota for New England states were still available. Statistics show that Maine’s menhaden fleet made the most of that overage: In the one week between receiving the extra quota and the state’s closing the pogy fishery, Maine fishermen landed almost 1.2 million pounds of menhaden, or seven times its regular annual menhaden quota.

Pogies are found in coastal and estuarine waters from Nova Scotia to northern Florida. Generally considered too oily for human consumption, they are prized as a source of Omega 3 fish oil, and as bait for many commercial and recreational fish, from shark to striped bass, but especially for lobster and crab. Pogies are also a prime source of food for whales and seabirds.

Environmentalists’ concern about shrinking stock were partly behind the decision by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to institute a quota system in 2012. The fishery is believed to be rebounding, however, and the commission voted to increase the quota by 10 percent last year.

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