In the winter of 2009, eighty Maine boats went shrimp trawling. This year, the number is likely to be zero.

Northern shrimp fishing season unlikely

BAR HARBOR — The Atlantic States Fisheries Commission held its annual meeting in Bar Harbor last week and took action affecting the herring, menhaden, horseshoe crab and Jonah crab fisheries, among others.

The word on whether there will be a Northern shrimp fishery this winter, though, will have to wait until next week.

On Thursday, Nov. 10, the ASMFC’s Northern Shrimp Section and Advisory Panel will meet in Portsmouth, N.H., to review the latest stock status report and recommendations from the panel’s technical committee about what the 2017 shrimp fishery should look like.

Given the committee’s view that the Gulf of Maine northern shrimp stock “remains in a collapsed state,” odds are that, as during the past three seasons, it will be another winter of empty nets for fishermen.

For the past three winters, regulators have imposed a moratorium on fishing based on the what scientists said was the record low level of the shrimp resource and poor recruitment — the annual introduction of juvenile shrimp — since 2012.

Last week, the technical committee released a report incorporating its recommendations for the 2016-2017 season. Based on the latest scientific data, the recommendation was to keep the shrimp boats in port, and the trawl nets and traps out of the water for another year.

“Given the continued poor condition of the resource and poor prospects for the near future,” the committee recommended “that the Northern Shrimp Section extend the moratorium on fishing through 2017.”

Another moratorium would be bad news for Maine fishermen.

Annual landings figures are somewhat misleading, because each year includes parts of two fishing seasons. (Historically, each season ran from Dec. 1 to the following April.)

In any event, in 1996, Maine fishermen landed nearly 18 million pounds of shrimp worth some $12.9 million. By 2012, landings of shrimp in Maine had fallen to slightly more than 4.8 million pounds worth some $4.6 million.

Even at that lower number, that a significant bite out of winter fishing incomes.

According to figures compiled by the technical committee, the number of Maine boats active in the fishery in the years prior to the moratorium first imposed in 2014 has varied widely.

During the 2012 season — which ran from Dec. 1, 2011, into February 2012 — 295 boats from Maine, 164 trawlers and 132 trappers, fished for shrimp. The next season, only 182 Maine boats were active.

Over the past three seasons, only a handful of boats, hired to conduct sampling activities for the technical committee, were allowed to fish and sell their landings — about 25,000 pounds last winter.

While there are certainly fishermen who would like to rig over their boats and chase shrimp this winter, the technical committee report said that “short-term commercial prospects for the 2017 fishing season are very poor.” The reason for that assessment is that the population of harvestable shrimp remains extremely low.

Prospects for the next few years “have improved slightly,” but recruitment to the fishery has remained “below average” this year.

The bad news is nothing new.

According to the committee, both the total and spawning populations have been “at historic lows” for the past five years. Recruitment has been “low to extremely poor” since at least 2009. In 2015, recruitment was the lowest it has ever been since scientists began keeping records.

A number of factors contributed to the problem.

As other fisheries have rebounded in the Gulf of Maine, so has predation of shrimp eggs and juvenile shrimp.

Water temperature was another issue. In the Gulf of Maine, temperatures have been “at or near record highs” for several years. Though cooler in 2014 and 2015, the water temperature was high again this year.

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]
Stephen Rappaport

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