Watermen prepare for menhaden bycatch limits

CHURCH CREEK, Md.- Today, a Maryland waterman with a pound net can catch as many menhaden as he or she would like, whether it be 5,000, 15,000, or 20,000 pounds of the bait fish.  But on Friday, that gets cut back to 6,000 pounds a day to protect the species from overfishing.
 
You can see from any pound net, that there’s more than one species swimming around in there.  That’s where the concept of a bycatch kicks in.
 
Once Maryland’s limit of menhaden, also called alewifes, is hit, the bycatch limit kicks in. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources says the idea is that since watermen cannot filter menhaden from these nets, a 6,000 pound limit per day is allowed.
 
Officials say it was leniency on the part of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to help watermen continue to make a living once the quota runs out. But Burl Lewis, a fifth generation watermen, says 6,000 pounds per boat is barely enough to pay the bills.
 
“Every day when we untie the boat it costs us $500 to $600 just between help and fuel and direct expenses, not including gear, wear and tear,” Lewis said. “And the whole 6,000 pounds is worth $800 so that leaves me $240 to $340 to try to maintain the gear and the equipment.” 
 
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