Small freshwater fish are commonly used as bait while fishing for sport fishes in Maine, especially in winter. Aquaculture of small fish, especially golden shiner (Notemigonus crysoleucas), is extremely big business in other parts of the U.S., eg. Arkansas. It is not legal to import live baitfish into Maine, therefore, there is a captive market and a large demand for baitfish which originate within the state. Much of this demand is now being met by the capture, storage, distribution, and sale of wild fish. Wild stocks are limited and cannot be relied upon for satisfying demand throughout the season.
Several species of small fish are legal for use as bait but four species dominate sales: golden shiner, common shiner (Luxilus cornutus), fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas), and rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax).
Due to our short growing season it is challenging to rear baitfish to market size in one season in Maine. However, several Maine people are successfully rearing golden shiners and fathead minnows in pond aquaculture sites. Smelt have not yet been reared in commercially viable numbers. Because of their high retail value ($3.00 to $12.00/dozen) successful smelt culture could be very profitable but many biological and technical obstacles exist which must be overcome before smelt culture becomes a reality.