In this September 2002 photo, a crewman passes a transfer cage of young Atlantic halibut to a diver for stocking into the offshore fish cage (right). Credit: Courtesy of the University of New Hampshire Open Ocean Aquaculture Project via AP

PORTLAND, Maine — Maine lawmakers are close to creating a new class of license for the state’s commercial halibut fishermen.

Atlantic halibut are large flatfish that are prized by seafood markets and restaurants. They’re often sold as steaks.

The Maine Department of Marine Resources said creating a license for halibut fishermen would help better manage the fishery. Currently, far fewer fishermen harvest halibut than the number who are legally allowed, the department said. However, the department has voiced concerns that fishermen could exceed quota limits in the future if more of them started harvesting the fish under the current framework.

The Maine Legislature’s Committee on Marine Resources unanimously voted in favor of the creation of the license category on Tuesday. The full Legislature would also have to approve it.

Most of the Atlantic halibut harvested in the U.S. come to the docks in Maine and Massachusetts. The two states harvested about 90,000 pounds of the fish between them in 2020, according to federal data.