Maine Seafood Guide
The sea has provided food and a way of life to Maine people for centuries. Today, Maine seafood is a half-billion dollar industry that supports fishing families, working waterfronts, local economies, and our heritage. This is your guide to Gulf of Maine fish and shellfish available from Maine markets, purveyors, and restaurants. Select a species of interest to learn more and find out:
- When is it in season?
- How and where is it fished?
- Can I catch it myself?
- What are the health benefits and risks?
- What do I look for when choosing, buying, and preparing?
Definitions & Sources
Maine Sea Grant developed this guide as a source of science-based information on marine species harvested from the Gulf of Maine and sold, marketed, or traditionally consumed as “seafood” in Maine. The guide is intended to collate information on species regulated at federal, state, and local levels as a service to the consumer of Maine seafood.
Please email us questions, comments, or requests to be included as a company or featured harvester.
Select a section of the guide below for related definitions and sources:
Health Benefits & Risks
Buying & Preparing
Wild species reproduce and grow unassisted in the marine environment. Some “wild” fisheries are supplemented with cultured juveniles or “seed.”
Aquaculture species are aquatic organisms propagated and reared in controlled or selected aquatic environments for any commercial, recreational, or public purpose (source: NOAA).
Natural history descriptions derive from the following sources:
- Collette, Bruce B., and Grace Klein-MacPhee, editors. 2002. Bigelow and Schroeder’s Fishes of the Gulf of Maine, Third Edition. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.
- Rodger, Robin W.A. 2006. The Fisheries of North America. Halifax, NS: Canadian Marine Publications.
- Schmitt, C. 2008. A Coastal Companion: A Year in the Gulf of Maine from Cape Cod to Canada. Gardiner, ME: Tilbury House.
- White, S., et al., eds. 2003. Life between the Tides. Gardiner, ME: Tilbury House.
- Other information from regulatory authorities.
This section indicates the time of year when a particular species is available to the consumer, based on commercial fishing rules and regulations (when fishing is permitted) and/or natural history information (when species is present in the Gulf of Maine). Information is updated when necessary to reflect seasonal or annual rule changes.
Status information for state fisheries (within three miles of shore) is derived from assessment and management measures implemented by the Maine Department of Marine Resources.
For fisheries in federal waters (greater than three miles from shore), stock status is based on the latest assessment from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) and is updated quarterly. Links are provided to FishWatch, the seafood information service of NOAA.
NOAA classifies stocks as “overfished” and/or experiencing “overfishing.” Overfished refers to the estimated size of the fished population, while overfishing refers to the rate or level of harvest. Typically, fishermen are still allowed to harvest species that are overfished/have overfishing, just at lower levels than before.
Overfished: A marine population (or stock) is considered overfished when it falls below an established minimum threshold and a change in management practices is required to rebuild the population. For example, abundance may be too low to ensure safe reproduction. A stock may remain overfished for some time even though fishing pressure might be reduced or suppressed.
Overfishing: Overfishing occurs when the rate or level of harvest of a marine population (or stock) jeopardizes the population’s capacity to sustain continued harvest. Overfishing is occurring if a reduction of fishing pressure would, in the medium term, lead to an increase in the total catch. For long-lived species, overfishing (i.e. using excessive effort) starts well before the stock becomes overfished. The use of the term “overfishing” may not always be consistent.
Fisheries in state waters (from three miles offshore to the head of tide) are governed by the Maine Department of Marine Resources. In some cases, such as with migratory fish, DMR shares management authority with towns, fishing councils, or regional authorities (e.g., Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission). In federal waters (beyond three miles from shore), the National Marine Fisheries Service has ultimate authority over commercial and recreational fishing, sometimes in coordination with regional management entities such as the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission or the New England Fishery Management Council.
This guide describes commercial fishing methods practiced by Maine-based harvesters and aquaculture techniques in use in Maine, based on regulations and personal interviews with members of the seafood industry. Each method links to a page that describes fishing methods and vessel types.
Many Maine families continue to collect and hunt food from the sea. This section contains rules for “recreational” harvesting (for personal or family use, as opposed to “commercial” harvesting for profit), including restrictions on time of harvest and fishing gear. For more information about recreational fishing in Maine, see the Department of Marine Resources.
►Health Benefits & Risks
Health benefits are based on data from: US Department of Agriculture Nutrient Database for Standard Reference; Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies, Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes for Vitamins and Elements; and FishWatch entry or the FDA. Compiled by Kate Yerxa, University of Maine Cooperative Extension.
Balancing benefits and risks of seafood consumption:
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we increase the amount and types of seafood we eat. In addition to providing a low-fat and low-calorie source of protein, vitamins, and minerals, consumption of about eight ounces per week of a variety of seafood, which supplies about 250 mg per day of the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), helps prevent heart disease.
For most adults, the health benefits from consuming a variety of seafood in the amounts recommended outweigh the health risks associated with mercury, a toxic heavy metal found in seafood in varying levels. Benefits are maximized with seafood higher in omega-3s but lower in mercury.
The nutritional value of seafood is of particular importance during fetal growth and development, as well as in early infancy and childhood. Moderate evidence indicates that intake of omega-3 fatty acids, in particular DHA, from at least eight ounces of seafood per week for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding is associated with improved infant health outcomes, such as visual and cognitive development. Therefore, USDA recommends that women who are pregnant or breast-feeding consume at least eight and up to 12 ounces of a variety of seafood per week, from choices that are lower in mercury. In 2014, the FDA and EPA drafted new consumption guidelines to align with USDA).
Mercury information is based on the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s safe eating guidelines for saltwater fish and the FDA data on mercury levels in commercial fish and shellfish from the FDA monitoring program.
Species with elevated levels of mercury and/or consumption advisories are indicated by this symbol. This space also contains relevant information about health risks from red tide and bacterial pollution closures, from the Department of Marine Resources.
►Buying & Preparing
This section contains tips for buying, storing, and preparing seafood from multiple sources, including representatives of Maine’s seafood industry and the following references:
- Beard, James. 1954. Fish Cookery. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
- Davis, J. Charles. 1967. Fish Cookery. New York: A.S. Barnes and Company.
- Oliver, Sandra. Saltwater Foodways. Mystic, CT: Mystic Seaport Museum, Inc.
- Peterson, James. Fish & Shellfish. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.
►Companies, Brands, and Labels
Brand names, community supported fisheries, direct marketing businesses, and other ways for consumers to identify and acquire Maine seafood. This section is not a comprehensive directory of Maine seafood purveyors; if you would like your business listed in this section, please email us.
►Certifications & Verifications
Is the fishery certified or verified by the Marine Stewardship Council, Gulf of Maine Research Institute, or other third-party organization?
Links to further information.
Short profile and image of a member of Maine’s seafood industry. These are still being developed and will be added as they are created.