Hand totes filled with Asian carp sit on the deck of a vessel. The species has been approved as a lobster bait fish in Maine, with approval pending for use Canada. Photo courtesy Patrick Swim

Blackbelly Rosefish, Asian Carp Given Nod as Alternative Lobster Bait Sources in Maine, Approval Pending in Canada

Maine lobster fishermen can now use blackbelly rosefish and Asian carp to bait their traps.

Both species were approved as alternative lobster bait sources earlier this summer and the hope is by this fall, approval will also be granted for use in Canada.

Cooke Aquaculture USA was given the nod by the Maine Department of Marine Resources to sell whole, blackbelly rosefish as lobster bait on June 28. The fish will come from South Atlantic waters off Uruguay, harvested by Cooke and frozen at sea as a whole fish within hours to maximize the product quality.

“We believe this is a solution to address concerns from the lobster fishery on the challenges they are currently facing on account of bait shortages,” said CEO Glenn Cooke in a press release.

“We operate alongside lobster fishermen in coastal communities in the state and hope this new option for safe, clean bait will benefit our colleagues in the lobster fishery.”

Blackbelly rosefish is widely distributed in the Atlantic Ocean and is from the same scientific classification as Atlantic redfish, which lobstermen already use for bait.

“We’re very pleased by the collaborative approach Cooke and the state took to help deal with the challenges that the lobster fishery has been facing related to securing bait,” said Patrice McCarron, Executive Director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. “This is a very promising solution to a serious issue, and we look forward to seeing it in use in Maine.”

Cooke has applied to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for approval to sell blackbelly rosefish as bait in Canada and the request is currently under review, said Joel Richardson, Cooke’s Vice President of Public Relations.

“Cooke has already received several calls from lobster bait dealers and lobster fishermen in Atlantic Canada seeking to purchase the rosefish,” he said.

As for Asian carp, Popeye Fisheries Inc., Illinois and Canada Atlantic Lobster Inc., Bedford, N.S. announced in July they “are positioned and approved to sell and distribute this fish as lobster bait in Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, with Canada in its final stages on import approval that is anticipated for September 2019.”

So far, only Asian carp caught in Kentucky waterways have the stamp of approval, said Canada Atlantic Lobster CEO Patrick Swim, with approval still pending for Illinois waters.

The two companies say their quest is to apply a common-sense remedy to the invasion of Asian carp in northern waterways by fishing down the population, which in turn will create jobs, save lobstermen money and catch lobster.