PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The ice fishing shacks that normally dot the Kennebec River and Merrymeeting Bay in the winter have folded up for the year, curtailing a Maine tradition because there’s no ice to be found.
Winter ice fishing for smelt is a beloved pastime in central Maine, where fishermen squat for hours to catch the tiny fish to be fried and eaten whole. But fishermen and camp operators said mild weather made this the shortest season in decades.
Camps that normally remain open until mid-March have shut down for the year, and some didn’t bother opening at all.
Sharon James, who works at the James Eddy Smelt Camps in Dresden, said it was the worst year for ice that she can remember since getting into the business in the 1950s. She said her camp is normally open for about 11 weeks and this year only made it through about three.
“If we’re going to do this, we’re going to need much colder weather,” James said. “The fish were there, but we just couldn’t get the ice.”
The warm year comes as regulators are trying to rebuild the smelt fishery. Scientists have said smelts face threats such as pollution and habitat disruption.
Fishermen normally take smelts through the ice in winter and with dip nets in the spring. New restrictions enacted by the state last year include no more smelt fishing in the southern part of Maine from March 15 to June 30.
This winter, the Coast Guard had asked that the shacks be gone by February’s end to make way for an ice-breaking mission on the Kennebec. A spokesman for the Coast Guard says the request is called off because it doesn’t look like there will be any ice to break.
“If there was a shack out on the ice, it’s now floating down river,” said Lt. David Bourbeau.