Under a bill passed by the Maine Legislature on Wednesday, the state’s pogie fishery will be closed to all fishermen in 2023 except current license holders who meet certain criteria.

To be eligible, fishermen must have held a license to fish for pogies in at least two of three years from 2019-21, and have landed 25,000 pounds in at least one of those years. Those who have the required license history but have not yet met the landings requirement have until the end of 2022 to harvest 25,000 pounds.

Pogie unloaded at Coastal Bait in Portland. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer, File

Pogies, also known as menhaden, have returned to state waters in large numbers over the past few years. As herring landings have dwindled, many lobstermen have switched to pogies for bait. At the same time, lax licensing requirements have lured others to enter the pogie fishery.

But the fishery has a regional quota, set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which is up for reassessment next month. State officials are concerned that the rules will be changed in ways that will limit the amount harvested from Maine coastal waters and estuaries. If the fishery remained open to additional licenses, that would mean less would be available for each fisherman, threatening the bait industry.

Maine’s quota was set at 2.1 million pounds for 2021-22, or 0.52 percent of the total allowed U.S. catch. Maine blew through that quota in just six fishing days.

If the Department of Marine Resources determines there are still large numbers of fish in state waters after the quota is met, it allows “episodic event” catches of 1 percent of the total allowable catch. States may also request unused portions of other states’ allocations. Once those are exhausted, the state moves into a “small-scale” phase of the fishing season during which the catch is limited to 6,000 pounds per day per boat. Given the large number of license holders in Maine, that has a big impact. Maine brought in more than 11 million pounds of pogies in the small-scale phase of the fishing season in 2021-22, which began last July.


The department, which sets the dates for each phase of the fishing season, is attempting to limit the number of license holders in case the fisheries commission amends its limits on small-scale fishing.

The Nature Conservancy of Maine supports the bill, L.D. 1908. It argued that the open access licensing structure, combined with the regional quota management system, had created a “derby fishery,” leading to an increase in the number of harvesters, and consequently a decline in average daily landings.

“Eventually, we reach a tipping point here in Maine where the fishery is no longer profitable for individuals and is detrimental to the resource,” Kaitlyn Bernard, natural resources policy adviser for the conservancy, said in submitted testimony.

But some fishermen testified that several factors make it difficult to meet the new criteria.

“The natural progression of purchasing a boat, securing licenses, purchasing permits along with the expense of outfitting a boat for the different fisheries is a very costly undertaking,” said Nicholas Beaudoin, a 22-year-old first-generation lobsterman from Saco, in written testimony. “This is the primary reason that I have not had the 25,000 pound proposed quota in spite of having bought and paid for my menhaden license since 2018, and been gradually purchasing the needed equipment to engage in the fishery in a larger and more effective way.”

Pogies are not as numerous Downeast as they are in southern Maine waters, according to Blake Alley of Steuben, making it difficult to reach the 25,000-pound threshold. In written testimony, he told lawmakers that he and others in that area who invested heavily in new equipment to enter the fishery will not be able to stay in it.


“We would catch a few fish each time, but never saw any huge balls of fish,” he said. “The only day we did we were able to nearly get our limit. This bill should not be based (on a 25,000-pound landing).”

Gary Small of Eastport testified that he has a small boat and catches menhaden for lobster bait. This bill, he said, will put him out of business.

“There are several lobster fishermen that does the same thing as I do,” he said. “Please help us take care of our families.”

The bill was amended from the original proposed by the Department of Marine Resources. The version the department supported would have based eligibility on holding a license in at least one year from 2016 to 2021, and catching 25,000 pounds of fish in one of those years. Many opposed that version because it would apply new rules retroactively: Harvesters who haven’t caught that much in any year during that period never knew earlier they’d have to meet that quota to keep their license.

The department proposed a landings threshold of 25,000 pounds because it would limit eligibility to approximately 255 license holders, which Deirdre Gilbert, director of marine policy for the department, said, “is really the maximum amount of effort we feel this fishery can support.”

If more license holders are added, she said, “given that it is not feasible to further shorten the season, our only other option is for further reductions in daily or weekly trip limits.”


Rep. William Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, who supported the amendment, said the original bill would have prevented approximately 300 people from renewing their licenses next year.

“Rather than (retroactively) revoking 300 licenses from people with this license history, we’ve given them one more summer to get their landings,” he said.

But the marine resources department objected to the amended version of the bill.

“The Department of Marine Resources is disappointed with this version of the bill,” Commissioner Patrick Keliher said in an email Tuesday. “The bill that passed allows an individual to use future landings to qualify for a commercial license. Using future landings will create an incentive for individuals to rush to land fish, or even falsify landings reports. Because of this, DMR will have to review the regulations for the coming season to ensure that the State remains within its allocated quota for this critically important fishery.”

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will be taking up state menhaden quotas at its meeting next month.

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