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Lobstermen adjust to changing bait supply

herring bait

Finding bait, and enough of it, is on the minds of Maine's lobstermen this season. Photo courtesy of Ellsworth American.

Lobstermen are as varied as the Maine coast. Some still rely heavily on herring as bait, others move among bait sources based on time of year, others favor alternative baits altogether. Sonny Beal, on Beals Island, changes bait based on the season. In the winter he lobsters with herring, haddock racks and pig hide. “In the fall I use redfish instead of haddock when it’s available,” he said. Beal is a member of the Beals-Jonesport Co-op, which gets bait from Durkee Bait in Jonesport. “I’ve started using smaller mesh pockets and also baitsaver bags to help save bait, but that’s just in the last year or so. So far we haven’t had an issue with not having herring,” Beal said. “This year I’m going to use more small mesh pockets and use more hard bait in the pockets and less herring. Pig hide will be a help. I think we will end up using more of that this year. We hope to have a good supply of pogies but so does everyone else. Also I won’t be dumping any bait out of the pockets this year. We’ll be baiting on top of old stuff a lot more.

Donny Young of Cushing knows that with the shortage of herring, prices for every other type of bait are likely to rise. He typically uses pogies and frozen rockfish for his lobster bait; he hasn’t lobstered with herring for more than six years. This year, he will be able to get the ever-popular pogies for himself. “Last year we bought a lot from local boats. This year I bought a 60-fathom seine with two other guys to use off my boat,” Young said. Continuing this “do-it-yourself” approach to securing bait, Young is turning half of his new garage into a bait feezer. “I’m turning one bay into a freezer, good down to 15oF. We’ll salt them and keep them there. Of course, if the pogies don’t come in, we’re all in trouble,” he said. Mark Jones of Boothbay also switched to other baits in recent years. “I didn’t use any herring last year at all and very little the year before that,” he said. “I use frozen rockfish, redfish, pogies.” He doesn’t feel that his bait situation will be much different this year but believes it’s a little too early to call exactly. “It depends on how much pressure there will be on the other types of bait. We won’t know until the season gets going. As far as frozen bait goes, it will be sold to the highest bidder,” he said. Jones contemplated building a freezer of his own to stockpile bait but with the uncertainty right now about new whale regulations and other regulatory matters, “I put that on hold.” Out on Matinicus Island, Tad Miller still prefers herring. “I’ve always used herring for bait,” he said. “I still use it but started switching away from it and using pogies.” Trying other lobster baits, including hard bait, was a matter of necessity not preference for Miller. He also turned to bait saver bags to reduce the amount of herring he did use, with mixed results. “The year before last I had a lot of success with them. If they work well, there’s a great savings in bait. But last year I used them and I took a shot in the gut. They hurt me,” he said. This season Miller is clear-eyed about what he faces in terms of available bait. “I will choose the cheaper option ,” he said. Down in Kennebunk, Laurin Brooks uses just about everything for his traps. “Anything that’s available,” he said, “herring, haddock racks, pig, cow hide, redfish.” The foundation of his bait throughout the season is cow and pig hide. “I just bought a hundred buckets of pig hide. I add what’s available to that. Pig doesn’t last as long as cow so I mix them together,” he explained. He and other local lobstermen have stockpiled both herring and flatfish racks to get ready for the fishing season. Brooks is a strong advocate of bait saver bags. “They work for me. We fish on mostly sand here and the sand fleas really bother the bait,” he said. “But they don’t get into the bait saver bags, which sure helps.”


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