Commercial and non-commercial fishing is part of the history and identity of Downeast Maine. Taunton Bay sustains an abundance of economically important sea life. Fisheries include soft-shell clams, mussels, lobsters, oysters, sea scallops, marine worms, elvers, alewives, and other species. These fisheries and the aquaculture operations make up an important part of the regional economy. The combined value of the fisheries and aquaculture in and around Taunton Bay was estimated to be from $4,170,258 to $10,263,390 in a 2005 economic assessment study using MDMR Landings and Licensing Data. Licensing data at that time indicated that 8.5% of year-round households in Hancock, Sullivan, and Franklin depended on marine resources as a source of income. In 2020, clam harvesting alone represented a $1.5 million annual industry for 60-65 clammers.

Soft-shell clam (Mya arenaria) harvesting.

Elver Fishery

The American eel (Anguilla rostrata), harvested in Taunton Bay, spawns in the ocean and migrates to fresh water to grow to adult size. In the spring inch-long, nearly transparent elvers—baby eels born in the Sargasso Sea—begin working their way up the edges of the bay’s streams. Many of these elvers are caught in large nets and packaged for live export to East Asia where they are grown out in aquaculture operations for food. Thousands more make their way into small lakes and ponds. In 2019 the catch brought in $20+ million to Maine.

American ell. Elver or “glass eel” stage ( Anguilla rostrata)

Harvesting Alewives

Several tons of alewives (Alosa pseudoharengus), the most common river herring, are harvested in the spring as they migrate from the sea to spawn in freshwater lakes. Harvesting is limited to certain days of the week, and licenses are tightly controlled. Alewives are mainly sold as bait for lobster fishing.

Harvesting alewives (Alosa pseudoharengus) at Grist Mill Stream in Franklin

Lobster and Crab Fishery

Currently there are two all-season commercial lobster fishers in Taunton Bay and three or four additional boats when lobsters are shedding. Two or three youth apprentices also fish in the bay. An estimated 20-30 non-commercial fishermen, each with a limit of five traps, fish for family consumption. Many of these fishers harvest Jonah crabs and “peekytoe’ or rock crabs while fishing for lobster. You will find the traps clustered along the channel flowing basically north to south or vise versa, depending on the tide.

Jonah crab (Cancer borealis)