Extra menhaden quota awarded to Maine as lobster bait shortage concerns heat up
As the peak summer season begins to beat down on Maine’s lobster harvesters, state officials have stepped in to help ease some of the bait shortage burdens pressuring the sector as of late.
Last week, the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Management Council approved Maine’s request to reopen its recently closed menhaden fishery for an additional 4.7 million pounds of catch, according to a recent report from the Portland Press Herald. On 30 June, the state had to end its menhaden fishing season early after it determined that harvesters had exceeded the annual quota of 2.4 million pounds for the key bait species by 1.5 million pounds.
With the state’s fleet of more than 100 vessels seemingly docked for the summer, menhaden were still being found in abundance in Maine waters from Kittery to Penobscot Bay, prompting officials to petition the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Management Council for extra quota.
With their wish granted, state officials are hopeful that “landing the extra menhaden quota now that peak lobster season has started and bait demand is picking up will help ease fears of a shortage predicted as a result of a 70 percent reduction of landings for herring, Maine’s most popular lobster bait,” the Portland Press Herald explained. Prices were already rising when the herring season opened on Sunday, 14 July, noted a special bulletin issued by Maine.gov one day later.
Affordable bait is a key commodity for Maine’s annual USD 485 million (EUR 432 million) lobster industry, which has expressed concerns about what a bait shortage could mean for prices. Fishermen working out of waters near Swans Island are paying as much as USD 80 (EUR 71) per bait bushel at some docks this year, compared to last summer's average price of about USD 45 (EUR 40) per bushel, the Press Herald found.
Due to late molt, Maine lobsterman are just now setting their full allotment of traps – typically 800 in most areas of the state – which means, at the moment, the pinch of a bait shortage is pretty minimal. However, most lobsterman, including Jeff Putnam, are wary of the situation at bay.
“For now, I imagine a lot of the bait coolers are pretty full,” Putnam, who works out of Chebeague Island, told the Press Herald. “The best-case scenario would be that lobstermen start using more bait when the catch picks up and Maine gets more pogy quota at that time to keep up with demand.”
“But menhaden alone will not solve the industry’s bait problem once the lobster fishery hits its peak stride,” the newspaper added. “Even if Maine catches all of the extra menhaden quota, that only equals 7.1 million pounds of bait.”
The Maine Lobstermen’s Association predicted last year that a 50 million-pound bait shortage could take hold in 2019. Currently, the Maine Department of Marine Resources is reviewing new bait sources, with the state already approving Gulf menhaden and blackbelly rosefish. Asian carp is also up for consideration, according to the Press Herald.