Mainers know it’s pogy season when you’re boating along the coast and see a dark underwater cloud with quick shimmers of scales flashing near the surface. Not only are striped bass, tuna, and seals happy, but Maine lobstermen are also happy when they know fresh bait will be available in the near future.

The commercial fishery opened for Atlantic menhaden yesterday in the state, while the non-commercial fishery opened on May 1. A species that occupies coastal waters from Nova Scotia down to northern Florida is believed to consist of a single population, and during mid-June, there seems to be no shortage of them along Maine’s coast.

The preliminary allocation of the Atlantic menhaden quota for the 2024 fiscal year is 24,464,561 pounds. However, this allocation is expected to decrease significantly due to an overage in 2023, when the commercial fishery landings for the species reached 20,036,403 pounds. Despite this, the small-scale fishery continues with open harvest days on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, with a daily limit for harvester vessels set at 5950 pounds, according to the Maine DMR.

Maine fishermen are very serious about the sustainability of this species and will work to ensure the stock is healthy for generations to come. Menhaden was the state’s fifth most lucrative fishery in 2023, with a landed value of $10 million, so the importance of keeping this stock alive is significant.

A school of pogies appears to be a dark cloud underwater, often lining parts of the coastal Maine in early June. Video by Max Day

Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association shared a post on social media for the commercial opening day, warning boaters and others out on the water to “keep your distance and respect their (fishermen’s) workspace. They also stated that this small-scale fishery is a great opportunity for “lobstermen to diversify and participate in the menhaden fishery to supplement their business and access important bait.”

On the same hand, just two months ago, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin signed “The Right to Fish” bill to protect commercial watermen from interference following an incident in the Chesapeake Bay. A menhaden harvester was making a set, and a watercraft rider ran his vessel between two purse boats. Luckily, the rider got into the set and out before the set was completed; however, this created a significant risk for themselves, the fishermen, and their gear.  

The law will increase penalties for harassing watermen to a Class I misdemeanor, which is punishable by confinement in jail and a fine.

Further south, a vote to put regulations on their menhaden industry was deferred back in February 2024, continuing to leave Louisiana as one of the only states in the U.S. with no regulations on how much menhaden can be harvested or caught within the state.

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Carli is a Content Specialist for National Fisherman. She comes from a fourth-generation fishing family off the coast of Maine. Her background consists of growing her own business within the marine community. She resides on one of the islands off the coast of Maine while also supporting the lobster community she grew up in.

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