A revised law recently banned the sale or use of Emerald Shiners and two other fish species from the list of legal baitfish. The ban on Emerald Shiners has received particular attention, even though it likely will not affect what anglers use for bait.
For many years, the term “Emerald Shiner” has been used by Maine anglers and bait dealers to describe what are actually Eastern Silvery Minnows (Hybognathus regius) or Common Shiners (Luxilus cornutus).
The recent legislation removed the true Emerald Shiner (Notropis atherinoides) as a legal baitfish. This species is not native to Maine and recent surveys suggest that the few locations (5 ponds in the entire State) where they may have historically occurred were likely misidentified Eastern Silvery Minnows or Common Shiners. Recent bait shop inspections have also yet to positively identify a true emerald shiner (Notropis atherinoides).
These species can be challenging to distinguish from one another. Especially when comparing Emerald Shiners and Eastern Silvery Minnows, confirmation often comes down to using a microscope to count the number of scales along the lateral line, counting anal fin rays, and determining if the mouth is crescent shaped or “U” shaped.
The take away message here is that fish currently marketed in bait shops as “Emeralds” or “Emerald shiners” are actually Eastern Silvery Minnows and Common Shiners – and both are legal to use. If bait shops want to market those species as “emeralds”, they may continue to do so.
A similar analogy can be made to the regional use of the term “partridge” when Mainers are actually referring to ruffed grouse. Maine does not support populations of any true partridge species, but the term “partridge” is used by many to describe ruffed grouse.
The reality is, the removal of true Emerald Shiners (Notropis atherinoides) from the list of approved baitfish will result in no meaningful change in what anglers are currently using for bait, and the revised law will help keep invasive minnow species out of Maine and add a layer of protection for our native fish.