Maine has landed a record number of pogies this summer, forcing regulators to shut the bait fishery down just as lobster season peaks.

All of the landings have yet to be counted, but officials say it is likely that an unusually large pogy fleet will have caught almost 7 million pounds of the fish, which is more than double last year’s landings. This comes as especially good news for Maine lobstermen, who use pogies to bait their traps when the herring supply runs low, as it is expected to this year.

“Every pogy used was herring not used,” said Kristan Porter, a Cutler lobsterman and president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, which has been working with its members to prepare them for the herring shortage. “There also are some in coolers stored and ready. … The increase in landings is a good thing.”

State officials say Maine had run through its 2.4 million pound annual quota of pogy, also known as menhaden, by July 22, even though the quota was 13 times what it had been in 2017. Pogies were still running strong, however, with purse seiners harvesting them farther north than they had in decades, so Maine got regulatory approval to catch extra.

Over the last three weeks, the Maine pogy fleet has claimed almost all of the 4.5 million pound quota set aside for a handful of states to share when the oily forage species shows up in local waters in unusually high numbers. The high rate of catch prompted Maine to close the so-called episodic fishery on Saturday, with regulators expecting all of the shared quota to be used up.

Part of the high catch rate comes from the size of the fleet. In past years, only a handful of fishing vessels have entered Maine’s regular pogy fishery. This year, however, the fishery attracted 50 fishing vessels during the regular season and 64 in the special episodic event fishery, officials say – no doubt drawn to Maine by word of the large number of schools reported up the coast.

“Fish have been harvested in and around Vinalhaven, observed near Stonington, and reported to have reached Gouldsboro and Winter Harbor,” said Jeff Nichols, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Marine Resources. “This spatial expansion of the species hasn’t been witnessed since the early ’90s, based on anecdotal information.”

Pogies are an important bait source for Maine’s $1.4 billion lobster industry. Some lobstermen prefer to use them, while others use the pogy when herring are hard to get or too expensive. Regulators want to cap this year’s herring landings at last year’s levels, and slash next year’s quota, to offset record low numbers of newborn herring that are entering the fishery.

The additional quota is not enough for a fisherman to make a living off pogy, but it can generate extra income to Maine fishermen, including lobstermen, who rig up their boats and participate in this traditional purse seine fishery. Seventeen harvesters fished for pogy in Maine last year, with almost all of it ending up as lobster bait.

In other states, the catch heads to Virginia, where it is turned into fishmeal and oil.

The closure of the episodic pogy fishery doesn’t mean that Maine fishermen can’t land any more. Maine can ask states with quota leftover to give their share to Maine, although it is still early in the season to make such a request. The state can continue landing up to 6,000 pounds of pogy a day under the small-scale fishery to keep at least some fresh pogies available for sale.

 

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