Maine’s lobster fishermen will be able to use a new species of bait fish to try to get through a herring shortage that has troubled the industry in recent years.

A blackbelly rosefish NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration

Lobstermen typically bait traps with Atlantic herring, but federal fishery regulators have enacted dramatic cutbacks to the catch quotas for that fish. The Maine Department of Marine Resources said Thursday it has approved the blackbelly rosefish as a new species that can be sold and used as lobster bait in the state.

The blackbelly rosefish is an abundant species that ranges from Canada to South America. Cooke Aquaculture, a New Brunswick, Canada-based company, requested Maine’s approval to sell rosefish as bait, and the company announced plans to harvest the fish off Uruguay.

“We believe this is a solution to address concerns from the lobster fishery on the challenges they are currently facing on account of bait shortages,” said Glenn Cooke, chief executive officer of Cooke Inc., which includes Cooke Aquaculture.

Most of the U.S. lobster catch comes to ashore in Maine, where lobstermen landed nearly 120 million pounds of lobster valued at about $485 million last year. Fishermen rely heavily on herring as a bait source, though they also use other species, such as menhaden, also called pogy.

The New England Fishery Management Council voted in June to reduce herring catch limits to a little more than 25 million pounds in 2020. An earlier cutback reduced this year’s quota to less than 35 million pounds. Herring fishermen, who are based mostly in New England, hauled in more than 200 million pounds of the fish as recently as 2014.

Fishermen have expressed doubt that other species will be enough to fill the gap caused by the herring shortage. The shortage has made for an uncertain time for an industry that is critically important to Maine’s economy, tourist and culture.

Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, said the availability of rosefish is “a very promising solution to a serious issue.”

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