How to eat Maine seafood.
You'll be happy to know that buying any and all Maine seafood supports Maine fishermen and sustainable fisheries. As a matter of fact, the United States has the most sustainable fisheries in the world. Our fisheries are highly-regulated and closely managed, and although sometimes burdensome, rules and regulations are constantly adapting to make certain that there's fish in the sea for the next generation of fishermen and to ensure a healthy Gulf of Maine ecosystem.
There are layers of regulatory bodies that manage many fisheries. For example, Atlantic halibut is managed by NOAA fisheries, the New England Fishery Management Council, and the Maine Department of Marine Resources. Halibut can be landed year-round by fishermen with a Federal Groundfish Permit. From around May-June, Maine fishermen without a Federal Groundfish Permit can buy 25 tags and fish for halibut within Maine waters. Halibut from federal and state waters is considered to be rebounding, meaning that the fishery is being managed in a way that supports efforts to increase the population.
Before we move on. Let's pause for a second and acknowledge something important that is often unclear for many consumers. Fishermen can not fish for whatever they want whenever they want it just because they are fishermen. There are very expensive permits associated with various fisheries. For example, as stated above, in order to land halibut year-round, a fisherman must have a Federal Groundfish Permit that can range from tens of thousands of dollars to over a hundred thousand dollars. There are also different permits for scallops, lobster, menhaden, shrimp, and highly migratory species (HMS), and much like halibut, each fishery or species has levels of regulatory bodies. Again, although somewhat cumbersome (and kind of confusing!) this is what makes fisheries in the United States (and especially Maine!) sustainable.
When buying seafood at a market, whether it's a grocery store or seafood market, there should be a country of origin label that lets you know where the fish is from. Hold on for a second, though, because it's going to get confusing again: Buying Gulf of Maine haddock at the grocery store is absolutely fine, but remember Massachusetts fishermen also fish in the Gulf of Maine so there's a chance that the fish you are buying at the grocery store was landed in Massachusetts. But it could be landed by a Maine fisherman in Massachusetts! Fishermen from Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts land their fish in Portland, Maine, and Gloucester and New Bedford, Massachusetts.
If you want to buy from a place where you can ask more questions about your seafood, it's better to seek out someplace like Harbor Fish Market, Cantrell's Seafood, Delano Seafood, Gulf of Maine Sashimi, Downeast Dayboat, or SoPo Seafood (to name a few). They all have Maine options, and they can all share with you more information about where your fish was caught and by whom. (If you have questions, you can also e-mail us any time!)
Buying direct is tough for species other than lobster. Maine lobstermen are allowed to sell their catch (lobster and crabs) directly to consumers but other seafood varieties require Retail and Wholesale Dealer Permits and HACCP certified facilities to ensure safety. Also, most fishermen prefer fishing to sales and marketing. So, while during this pandemic fishermen and seafood businesses are pivoting to retail and direct sales, understanding that the seafood system is not as easy as buying and selling vegetables at a Farmers' Market is important.
If you can remember these two things when seeking out seafood you should be all set: You are definitely not eating enough seafood so it's always a good option, and wild-caught American seafood has a very low carbon footprint when compared to other proteins (like red meat!) so it's always a good choice for your health and the health of the environment.
Especially Maine seafood, of course.
Here are some websites where you can get more information about seafood that is available in Maine and New England.