The Maine Department of Marine Resources is loosening fishing restrictions on Atlantic herring in an attempt to address a shortage of the baitfish most commonly used for catching lobster.
New rules put in place by the U.S. state for this year’s fishing season have increased the percentage of Atlantic herring caught inshore, threatening to exhaust the inshore quota during prime lobster season, according to an article in the Portland Press Herald. Fishermen have caught about 25 percent of the 19,400 metric tons (MT) of herring they are allowed to catch inshore during the summer, while at this time last year, fishermen had only caught about 20 percent of the summer quota, the article said. At the same time, fishermen on the Georges Bank had only caught 8,300 MT of herring, less than the approximately 19,000 MT they had landed at the same time last year.
“We were still running through the inshore quota too fast, so we tried some other things, but now industry is telling us there’s not enough bait. It’s a balancing act,” Maine Department of Marine Resource Deputy Commissioner Meredith Mendelson told the newspaper.
The department’s new rules allow for more fishing days but a weekly landing limit of 600,000 pounds of herring per boat. However, the new rules are subject to revision if fishermen are found to be overestimating their catches, Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher told fishermen, according to the Press Herald.
Meanwhile, bait prices are skyrocketing just as the prime lobster season gets underway, Patrice McCarron, the executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, told the Press Herald.
“Lobstermen understand their business is dependent on bait supply. It’s very frustrating to see the prices go up, but they need bait. Our primary goal is to have a steady supply of bait over a course of the season. We understand the supply has to be tight now, but we’re OK with that as long as it gets us across the season, that we have fresh herring through October,” McCarron said. “We don’t want to tell the herring industry how to fish. It is up to them. They know what works. What we want is predictability, in prices if we can, but in accessibility most of all.”