A haddock sandwich on sourdough bread. Though quotas have been cut, it’s okay to eat Maine haddock.

There is a haddock problem swimming around Gulf of Maine waters.

But don’t blame the problem on fishermen catching too many haddock, say Maine commercial fishing advocates like Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. In fact, they have been fishing in accordance with mandated quotas for decades, he said, regulatory measures that have returned the haddock stocks in the Gulf of Maine to sustainable levels.

The problem, rather, is grounded in inaccurate accounting of the boom-and-bust cycles of haddock biomass, that is, how many fish are swimming in the Gulf of Maine at any given time. In December, the New England Fishery Management Council, a regional body that uses industry and scientific data to recommend quotas that restrict how many metric tons of regulated species fishermen in New England can haul in each year, announced a cut in haddock quotas. It represents an 80-plus percent reduction in allowable catch; the new season began on May 1.

To understand this year’s drastic cut, you need to go back several years: The 2022 catch limits were based on a 2019 stock assessment, according to New England Fishery Management Council staff member Dr. Jamie Cournane speaking in a podcast hosted by Martens. In hindsight, the 2019 assessment was found to be bloated because, among several factors, the “recruits” (the juvenile fish swimming with the 2019 cohort) matured to be smaller and were fewer than anticipated. Thus the 2023 limits, ultimately calculated in pounds, were set on an assessment conducted in 2021 that reflects the skinnier fish.

Fishermen have formally questioned the 2022 assessment because they say they are seeing many haddock in the Gulf of Maine. Not only is haddock a significant revenue source for them, but the fishermen fear that they’ll be restricted from catching other groundfish – particularly American plaice and grey sole – that also swim near the bottom of the sea. Say, for example, that fishermen fill their quota for haddock by August. They’d then have a hard time taking a trip to catch plaice or grey sole because haddock bycatch, likely, would also be in the nets.

The New England Fishery Management Council has recommended an emergency increase in haddock catches for regional fishermen to allow them to keep fishing for other groundfish species; the emergency increase would allow for wiggle room in the net for a few haddock as bycatch. The increase is small and on par with conservation efforts mandated by federal law, she said. According to Janice M. Plante, Council spokesperson, no conservation groups spoke out against the emergency measure in April.


When contacted last week, Erica Fuller, a senior attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation in Massachusetts (where haddock quotas for fish caught along Georges Bank were also cut), said the Foundation generally supports sustainably managed wild-capture fisheries.

“To the extent haddock quota is available, it’s a great source of fresh, locally caught seafood. The cuts in quota are unfortunate for the industry because it has become an important commercial species following the collapse of Atlantic cod,” she said. “Hopefully, additional scientific data will support higher quotas again soon but, until then, managers should avoid risky decisions that could lead to overfishing.”

Federal regulators are expected to rule on the emergency action soon.

In the meantime, what is a haddock lover to do? The short answer is: have your haddock and eat some flounder too!

“Mainers should feel good about eating haddock harvested from the Gulf of Maine,” said Geoffrey Smith, Marine Program Director for The Nature Conservancy in Maine. “The haddock population is over 250% of the rebuilding target set by assessment scientists and recent improvements in the fishery monitoring program will help ensure catch limits are not exceeded.”

Buying as much haddock as you did in summers past (or more) helps keep Maine’s fleet of ground fishermen on the water, pulling in sustainable seafood that buoys the state’s local food economy and provides you with healthy, nutrient-dense protein. Buying other less popular but more abundant species, like plaice and grey sole, gives fishermen financial incentive to keep landing those as well. If you don’t know if a fish was landed by a Maine fisherman, ask your server, fishmonger or grocery store fish counter attendant.


“They may not know the answer, but as they go to their managers to find out, they will be signaling to the folks who make decisions on what seafood to sell that folks are asking for Maine-caught seafood,” Martens said.

In the kitchen, pretty much any recipe that calls for haddock can also be used to cook flatfish like flounder and American plaice. But keep in mind that since sole and plaice are generally half as thick as haddock, the cooking time will be shorter.

Gulf of Maine haddock fillets coated with furikake. They’ll form the basis of a fried haddock sandwich. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Blackened Maine Haddock (or Flounder) Sandwich with Whole Lemon Mayo Slaw

The haddock sandwich at the Narrows Tavern in Waldoboro is well worth the drive. It’s a play on the Rachel sandwich (itself a play on the Rueben). The Narrows Tavern version uses haddock for the turkey that’d be in a Rachel, and lets diners chose whether they want the fish fried, grilled, or blackened. I like it blackened.

Instead of Cajun blackening spices, use Ocean’s Balance Spice Furikake.

For this recipe, I’ve swapped out the Cajun-inspired blackening seasoning with a spicy seaweed-based seasoning from Ocean’s Balance and given coleslaw more zip with a whole lemon mayonnaise. Either haddock or flounder works here; the haddock requires a few minutes more time.

If you avoid raw egg yolks, combine 1/4 cup of your favorite commercial mayonnaise with a tablespoon of lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon each lemon zest and grated fresh garlic.


Makes 2 sandwiches with some leftover slaw

1 whole lemon, cut into quarters, seeds removed
1 egg yolk
1 garlic clove
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon honey
Kosher salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups shredded mixed vegetables (like cabbage, carrots, beets, kohlrabi)

2 (5–6-ounce pieces) haddock or flounder
Olive oil
2 tablespoons Ocean’s Balance Spicy Furikake
4 slices sourdough bread, thinly sliced
Room-temperature butter

To make the slaw, combine the lemon, egg yolk, garlic, mustard, honey, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in the canister of a blender. Process the ingredients on a high speed until you get a chunky paste, about 1 minute. With the blender running, pour the oil into the blender in a slow stream. Turn off the blender when the mayonnaise is thick.

Combine the mayonnaise with shredded mix vegetables in a medium bowl. Adjust the seasoning and set aside.

To make the fish, drizzle the fish with oil and sprinkle 1 tablespoon of furikake over each fillet. Rub the mixture all over the fillets.


Slather 1 side of each piece of bread with butter.

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Place the bread, buttered sides down, in the pan and cook until nicely browned, about 2 minutes. Transfer the bread to a cutting board, toasted sides down.

Turn the heat down to medium, place the fillets, the side where the skin used to be facing up, and sear until crisp and slightly darkened, about 3 minutes. Flip the fillets over, and cook until they are no longer opaque, 3-4 minutes more for haddock and 1-2 minutes more for flounder.

Pile 1/2 cup of slaw on 2 pieces of the toasted bread. Top with a piece of fish and then a second piece of bread. Serve warm.

Local foods advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is the former editor of Edible Maine magazine and the author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column about eating sustainably in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at: cburns1227@gmail.com.

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