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Bath museum exhibit highlights boom, bust of fin fisheries

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Bath museum exhibit highlights boom, bust of fin fisheries

BATH — The Maine Maritime Museum's latest exhibit, running through Nov. 29, is dubbed "Net Worth: The Rise and Fall of Maine's Fin Fisheries."

The 243 Washington St. institution's focus on fin fisheries differentiates its theme from lobstering, according to Chris Hall, curator of exhibits for the museum.

"Given the scope of things, of the industry's problems and the issues involved, we wanted to make sure we separated that out from lobstering," Hall said. "Not to belittle the lobstering industry, but there's plenty of interesting things to learn just from fish that have fins as opposed to shells."

The exhibit covers 19 species of fish that are currently fished commercially around Maine, from bottom-dwelling fish like cod, haddock and hake, to mackerel, herring and tuna. It also follows the heyday and decline of each of those species.

As fin fishing rose in the 17th century, cod was the primary target fish of the day, Hall said. Other species were either unknown or just not fished commercially, but as the cod supply dwindled, the demand increased for other species, such as haddock.

"Haddock were completely despised as long as there was cod to be had," Hall said.

New technologies as the years passed also helped fishermen to catch new species.

"All these fish have their rises and falls," Hall said. "And in theory, they're gradually rising again."

Until largely federal regulations on the industry were implemented, "fisheries were fished until they collapsed, and then the next target was looked for," Hall said.

He explained that some species are reacting to management – haddock is on the upswing – while halibut, a major fishery in the late 19th century, has yet to bounce back.

"You can get halibut now at the market," Hall said, "but chances are it's not caught in the Gulf of Maine."

Gear technology advancement is working to help fishermen be able to target a certain species of fish, in the case that a struggling species frequents the same area as one that is flourishing.

The fishing nets displayed at the museum include engineered research models that are intended to catch haddock, for example, and avoid cod. The nets take advantage of the behavior of fish, catching them depending on their movements.

"Fishing is just an extremely complicated, highly skilled trade to be following," Hall said, "and if we can get some of that across to the people who come through here, I'd be quite happy with that."

For more information, log onto mainemaritimemuseum.org or call the museum at 443-1316.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.