The state has notified commercial menhaden license holders that starting Sunday they will no longer be able to catch the small amounts of menhaden they are usually allowed to harvest after the fishery’s initial quotas are met.

The fish, also known as pogy, has become popular bait for the lobster fishery after the herring fishery collapsed and menhaden became plentiful again in the Gulf of Maine.

“There are a lot of fishermen who are really upset about this closure,” said Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. “With the high price of fuel and of bait, the small-scale fishery has allowed lobstermen to harvest their own bait, save some money, and keep fishing. The management of menhaden is really complicated because of the quota system that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission works within. We desperately need more quota dedicated to Maine.”

The state’s menhaden quota has been set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission at 0.52 percent of the total allowable catch, equating to 2.2 million pounds for fiscal year 2022. Once the quota is met, the Northeast region receives another 1 percent of the allowable catch, or about 4.3 million pounds if there are still plenty of the fish around. States also can swap unused portions of their quotas. Once those quotas and allocations are reached, the fishery is “closed,” on paper but actually moves into a “small scale” phase in which 6,000 pounds a day may be harvested a few days a week.

This year, however, the Department of Marine Resources is closing the small-scale fishery completely. It also set a limit of 6,000 pounds per day early, on June 21, when the second quota went into effect. That phase ended June 28, and the small-scale phase began July 6. Now that is ended, and only non-commercial license holders may harvest pogies, with a 1,050-pound limit per day. There are no notices of such a closure in the 2015-2021 emergency regulation archives.

Maine landed 27 million pounds of menhaden with a value of $7 million in 2020, a 13 percent increase over 2019 landings and 316 percent over 2016 landings. Preliminary data for 2021 shows 22 million pounds were landed with a value of $9.5 million.


The amount of menhaden landed in Maine during the small-scale phase of the fishery has increased from 506,000 pounds in 2016 to 13.6 million pounds in 2020, according to the 2020 review of the fishery management plan by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

In the first 17 days of the small-scale harvest this year, Maine harvesters landed 15.8 million pounds of pogies, 170 percent more than they landed in the 2021 small-scale phase, the Department of Marine Resources told commercial license holders in its notice of the impending closure. It also said that the total landings among the Atlantic states for the 2021 fiscal year exceeded the allowable catch.

proposed amendment to the Menhaden Fishery Management Plan that is currently out for public comment considers a number of allocation schemes for Maine, ranging from the status quo of 0.52 percent, to 4.82 percent in one scenario. It reports that Maine caught 5.28 percent of the total landings among Atlantic states in 2021. (Virginia regularly lands the most, with 78 percent in 2021.) Comments on the proposal will be accepted until Sept. 30.

“Maine harvests far more quota than ASMFC will ever allocate to the state,” Martens said. “It is a prime example of the type of management stressor that we will be increasingly facing as climate change disrupts our fisheries, and managers and fishermen don’t have the tools necessary to quickly adapt to the realities of today.”

The department anticipated that there would be increased harvesting this year because of recent legislation that changed the requirements for maintaining a menhaden license. Under the new requirements, an applicant must have held a license that allowed fishing for menhaden commercially in two of the three years between 2019 and 2021, and must have at least 25,000 pounds of landings in either 2019, 2020, 2021 or 2022. Because the landings requirement could have been satisfied this year, the department expected more people would be fishing menhaden to maintain their licenses.

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