ELLSWORTH — Fishermen wondering whether there will be a shrimp season this winter won’t have long to wait for an answer.
On Monday, Dec. 7, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Northern Shrimp Section and Advisory Panel will meet in Portsmouth, N.H., to decide whether boats from Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts will be allowed to this winter. Last year, the regulators imposed a moratorium on fishing because scientists said the shrimp stock was on the verge of collapse.
Next month, the scientific advisory panel will meet to review the 2015 Stock Status Report and develop recommendations for the 2016 fishing season. The section will meet later in the day to set specifications for the 2016 fishing season, if there is to be one, after reviewing the 2015 Stock Status Report and the advisory panel recommendations.
Information from the ASMFC suggests that another moratorium is likely. According to surveys in the Gulf of Maine, between 2012 and 2014 the abundance of shrimp and the size of the shrimp biomass were at their lowest levels in the 31-year history of the survey. The 2014 fishable biomass was the lowest on record.”
The presence of juvenile shrimp in the survey was discouraging as well. Shrimp hatched during 2013 were not expected to reach fishable size until 2017 and the level of recruitment in 2014 was the ninth lowest since the surveys began.
In a document prepared to introduce the public to proposed changes to the Northern Shrimp Fishery Plan (which have been postponed), the ASMFC said that scientists believed that “the northern shrimp stock has collapsed with little prospect of recovery in the near future.
Since about 1985, the fishing season for northern shrimp has, in most years, run from December through March or April of the following year. Regulators have tried to manage the fishery by setting a seasonal Total Allowable Catch (TAC) and by limiting the number of days on which fishing is allowed. Despite their best efforts, landings have fluctuated wildly, but the trend has been downward.
During the 1996-1997 season, harvesters from Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts landed more than 9,539 metric tons (about 2.1 million pounds) of northern shrimp. The Maine harvest alone was more than 8,107 metric tons (1.8 million pounds).
During the 2013-2014 season, the last time fishing was allowed, the tri-state shrimp harvest was just over 334 metric tons — about 736,000 pounds. Most of that, about 279 metric tons or 615,000 pounds, was harvested by Maine boats.
There was no fishery during the winter of 2014-2015.
At their meeting next month, the regulators will also receive an update from the Department of Marine Resources on the development of a proposal to address over-capacity in the Maine shrimp fishing fleet.
During the 2013-2014 season, the latest figures compiled by ASMFC show that 207 boats were active in a fishery with total landings of 334 metric tons. Of those, 181 — 109 trawlers and 72 trappers — were Maine boats.
In September, the northern shrimp section postponed further development of Draft Amendment 3 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Northern Shrimp until next summer. The intent of the amendment was to address increased effort in the fishery through a variety of management options, including changing the fishery from an open model to limited entry.
Just why the shrimp stock has apparently crashed in the Gulf of Maine is as yet unproven, though scientists have pointed to rising water temperatures as a threat to the cold water species. According to a recent assessment by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), the fishable biomass and female spawning stock biomass have remained stable in cool northern waters and has exhibited “relatively little change” over the past seven years.