Fisheries: Introduction


Fish have always been important to Maine’s economy and survival. Native people, European explorers, settlers, and Mainers today have depended on marine life for food and trade.

Maine fishermen catch a wide range of fish, shellfishShellfish shell fish

Common name for marine invertebrates: crustaceans such as lobsters, mollusks such as clams, echinoderms such as sea urchins.
, and other sea animals for a broad market. Today’s fishermen in the Gulf of Maine often sell their catch at the Portland Fish Exchange, where buyers purchase fish at daily auction.

Fisheries today include haddockHaddock

A North Atlantic food fish related to cod.
, halibutHalibut

A large flatfish or flounder sometimes weighing hundreds of pounds. The Atlantic halibut has been overfished to the point that it is endangered.
, flounderFlounder

A flat fish that lies on the bottom camouflaged and ambushes its prey. It is characterized by having one of its eyes migrate to the top of the fish. Like many species, these have been overfished commercially so that the stock is perhaps 10% of what it was before industrial or modern fishing.
, hakeHake

A term used for a family of cod-like fish. Most common in New England waters is the white hake.
, and pollockPollock

Pollock are the most active members of the cod family. They are deep, plump bodied fish that have three dorsal fins, two anal fins and a forked tail fin, with slightly projected lower jaw. Pollock average between 4 and 15 pounds in weight, although large ones can weigh to 35 pounds.
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. Seasonally, fishermen also harvest clamsClam

A shelled mollusk of which there are a number of species. It has a relatively symmetrical oval shell. The dominant Maine clams are soft shelled and live in the mud in the intertidal zone.
, musselsMussel

A bivalve mollusk with numbers of species found in both fresh and salt water. Of commercial interest in Maine is the blue mussel, found in natural mussel beds and raised in aquaculture.
, scallopsScallop

Sea scallops are bivalve mollusks which differ from clams and mussels by being active free swimmers. They have symmetric fluted shells. They are caught with dredges. Maine's fishery became commercially viable around 1900 with the introduction of the gasoline engine.
, oystersOyster

Oysters are a bivalve mollusk of great commercial value. Disease and overfishing have decimated once thriving beds in the Chesapeake Bay, New York Harbor and Long Island Sound. Maine's waters have never had a commercial oyster fishery due to slow growth compared to areas south of Cape Cod. There are some oyster farms that are now seeking to provide oyster brood stock.
, shrimpShrimp

A small swimming crustacean, typically caught commercially by trawling. Maine's shrimp are northern shrimp, and the Gulf of Maine is at the southern limit of their range. The fishery is a winter fishery which began in the 1930s.
, alewivesAlewives

Anadromous fish of the herring family about 12 inches long. Fished commercially in the spring when they run upriver to spawn. Catch is now a third of what it was in the 1970s. Offshore they are caught by midwater trawlers. Once smoked and pickled, now mostly used as lobster bait.
, herringHerring

Perhaps the world's most important food fish; there are sixteen species, with the Atlantic herring the dominent North Atlantic species. Fished heavily for centuries, today herring is caught in Maine waters primarily for lobster bait with some going to sardines. With new fishing technology there are serious concerns about overfishing.
, mackerelMackerel

Atlantic mackerel is the species found in the North Atlantic. A schooling, bony, oily, strongly-flavored food fish, green above with dark blue bars and silvery color below. The commercial stock has rebounded since near collapse in the 1970s. Without ice they spoil quickly. They are caught in purse seines which produce relatively little bycatch and no bottom damage. Today most of Maine's mackerel fishery is recreational.
, and tunaTuna

Fast swimming migratory ocean fish of tremendous commercial importance. Capture is now regulated by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Appear in the Gulf of Maine in summer where there is a recreational fishery.
. SalmonSalmon

A marine and freshwater food fish, inhabiting North Atlantic waters near the mouths of large rivers. Salmon are anadromous fish, entering rivers to spawn (lay eggs.) In Maine, salmon fishing was once a commercial, then a sport fishery; now wild salmon are an endangered species. Many are farm-raised.
, oysters, and mussels are usually raised in aquacultureAquaculture

Growing fish or shellfish in a controlled environment at sea or in tanks or lagoons on land. Fish grown in such an environment are said to be farm-raised.
facilities along the coast. Recreational fishermen pursue striped bassStriped bass

A migratory anadromous fish that moves up the Eastern seaboard, arriving in Maine in summertime. They live very near shore and are caught in surf or in rivers below head of tide. They are no longer plentiful enough in Maine for a commercial fishery.
, mackerel, shadShad

American or atlantic shad are an anadromous fish traditionally caught in weirs or set nets along the Eastern Seaboard. They are the largest member of the herring family, and are often found in nets together with salmon. Damming rivers destroyed the shad fishery, as egg-bearing shad cannot jump, so do not use ladders put in for alewives and salmon. In Maine this is only a recreational fishery.
, bluefishBluefish

A migratory schooling fish species that ranges from Nova Scotia to Florida. It is a voracious fish, feeding on other species such as mackerel and herring. Found on the Maine coast in summer.
, and smeltSmelt

Small anadromous fish that is a food fish for other species. Netted in winter on both lakes and in tidal waters.