Maine fishermen may get the rest of 2022 to meet an eligibility threshold needed to continue fishing for menhaden — commonly known as pogies — after next year.
Earlier this year, the state Department of Marine Resources submitted a bill to the Legislature that would, starting in 2023, only allow fishermen to obtain a commercial menhaden license if they’ve held it in one of the last six years and caught at least 25,000 pounds of pogies during one of those years.
A key legislative committee Tuesday recommended the bill pass with an amendment that would allow fishermen one more year of catching the 25,000 pound threshold of the small, oily fish that has become an important baitfish to the lobster industry in recent years.
Marine Resources proposed limiting licenses because they say too many fishermen are jumping into the fishery, causing quotas to be reached in just days and raising concerns about the potential for overfishing.
Marine Resource’s initial idea was panned by fishermen, especially those Down East who had only seen menhaden in the past three years and hadn’t had a chance to learn the fishery and catch the 25,000-pound threshold.
Other fishermen argued that, had they known a retrospective catch threshold was going to be used, they would have caught that many fish to stay in the fishery.
The amendment adopted by the marine resources legislative committee in a split vote Tuesday loosened the eligibility requirements that DMR originally proposed, potentially allowing for more licenses than the department had wanted.
The committee recommended that licenses be available in 2023 to fishermen who have held a pogie license for at least two of the last three years and landed 25,000 pounds during 2019, 2020, 2021 or 2022.
The change, put forward by state Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, would allow fishermen who had not caught the 25,000-pound limit under DMR’s original proposal last year, to reach it.
Patrick Keliher, the head of marine resources, warned against such a provision, saying it could create a “derby” where fishermen are racing to hit the threshold so they can continue to hold a license.
“You’re going to drive the numbers up,” he said.
The department estimated that Faulkingham’s proposal could allow as many as 660 license holders — more than twice the state’s goal — though in reality it would probably be lower than that.
Keliher also worried that by giving fishermen an extra year could tempt fishermen to falsify landing reports so they could get to 25,000 pounds.
Maine only holds about .52 percent of the eastern seaboard’s quota for pogies. State regulators said it was important to show interstate managers that Maine was protecting the fishery if they ever wanted a larger allotment.