Coastal smelt fishermen need to be aware of new rules

Late last week I received an email from Jeff Nichols of the Department of Marine Resources, who asked for some help in helping to educate smelt fishermen who might be inadvertently breaking new rules that are in effect.

“I’ve heard from a number of folks in the department that people fishing for smelt are unaware of the latest smelt regulations, especially in Zone 2 [Owl’s Head Light to Naskeag Point in Brooklin], where they’re apparently running pretty well right now,” Nichols wrote. “Is it possible for you to do a reminder to your readers about the new regs?”

You bet.

The new regulations went into effect on March 9, and are a response to concerns about smelt populations on the Maine coast. An important thing to remember: We’re talking about coastal smelt-fishing here, not the smelt fishing that takes place on inland streams.

The most conservative rules are aimed at the southern part of the state, from Kittery Point to Owl’s Head. In that area — Zone 1 — smelt populations have declined substantially, and no smelting is allowed during spawning season, from March 15-June 30.

In Zone 2 — the area where Nichols says there is confusion — DMR data shows that some spawning runs have declined, and overall abundance of the small fish is low. In that zone, there is a one quart limit per person, per day possession limit in effect from now until June 30. Additionally, the DMR has instituted “weekly closure days” that make it unlawful to fish on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

In Zone 3, runs seem stable, according to DMR research, but the daily possession limit is two quarts during spawning season.

If you’ve got more questions, you can look at the rule-making adoption form and the explanation of state law here.

John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.