HALLOWELL — Traditional Maine smelt fishing is banned in the lower half of the state this spring from Stonington to Kittery.

Battered and fried, the small fish is a spring staple in Maine.

The Department of Marine Resources says in a press release that the closure will protect smelt at a vulnerable life stage when they are spawning. The closure will begin on March 14. Smelt camps that remain on the Kennebec and its tributaries will be exempt from the closure.

The emergency closure will last 90 days during the spawning period.

State studies show runs of rainbow smelt have declined 50 percent in the last few decades in the closure area.