ELLSWORTH — Regulators from the Atlantic States Fisheries Commission’s Northern Shrimp Section canceled the 2106 fishing season when they met in Portsmouth, N.H., early this month, but all may not be lost for a few lovers of the tiny, succulent crustaceans.
In order to maintain a continuing record of biological data collected from the northern shrimp commercial fishery, the section approved a cooperative winter sampling program that will allow a handful of harvesters to land up to a total of 22 metric tons (about 48,000 pounds) of shrimp under a “research set aside quota.”
The goal of the program, according to an announcement from the commission, is “to continue the wintertime series of biological data (e.g. size composition, egg hatch timing) collected” from Gulf of Maine northern shrimp fishery catches in the absence of a commercial fishery.
Under the program, ASMF will contract with four trawlers, one from each of four separate regions in the gulf, which will be allowed to land up to a maximum of 1,800 pounds of shrimp per trip. Two trappers will also be allowed to fish, using no more than 40 traps and with a weekly 600-pound landings limit.
Vessels will be selected from among those that apply to fish in each of four regions: Northern Massachusetts to Boon Island — located about six miles of the town of York in southern Maine; Boon Island to Small Point in Phippsburg (western Maine); Small Point to Monhegan Island (Midcoast Maine); and Monhegan to the U.S.-Canadian border.
The contracting trawlers won’t be expected to cover their entire assigned region. The ASMFC scientists want the boats to work on their traditional grounds where they would normally fish for shrimp. The precise fishing locations within each region will be chosen by the captain.
Harvesters will be allowed to sell their catch and, with the supply of shrimp minuscule, the price is likely to be high. Most of the sales, though, are likely to be directly from fishermen to restaurants or consumers — peddler sales — because the landings volume will likely be too low to make it economic for processors to operate.
According to the ASMFC plan, fishing should begin in January as soon as funds for the project become available. After that, the boats should fish about once every two weeks, depending on weather.
Ideally, there would be one or two trips in January, two in February, and one or two in March, or until the shrimp eggs are completely hatched. Captains will work with their state ASMFC shrimp technical committee members — in Maine, Department of Marine Resources scientist Maggie Hunter — to develop the schedule, which will relate to the rate of egg hatch as the season progresses, and will vary from west, where the shrimp eggs hatch earlier, to east where the hatch is later.
In addition to the proceeds from the sale of the shrimp they land, trawler captains will also be paid $500 for each trip to cover their expenses such as fuel and insurance.