ELLSWORTH — The wait will soon be over for gourmets and harvesters who yearn to know whether Maine shrimp will be on their plates — or in their nets — this winter.
Next week, fisheries regulators will meet over two days in Portland to consider the health of the Northern Shrimp resource and changes to the Northern Shrimp Fishery Management Plan, Most important, they will also determine whether there will be a shrimp fishery in the Gulf of Maine this winter and if so, how large it will be.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Northern Shrimp Technical Advisory Panel and Regulatory Section will meet on Thursday, Nov. 15, and Friday, Nov. 16, respectively, at the Maine Historical Society at 489 Congress St. in Portland.
The panel will meet Thursday from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. to review public comment on Draft Addendum I to the management plan, review the 2018 Benchmark Stock Assessment and prepare recommendations about both adoption of the draft addendum and the dates and landings quota, if any, for the 2019 shrimp fishing season for consideration by the Northern Shrimp Section.
On Friday, the section will meet from 9 a.m. to noon to consider the advisory panel’s recommendations, then take final action on the proposed changes and set specifications for the 2019 season.
The addendum would give each of the three states that have shrimp landings — primarily Maine but also New Hampshire and Massachusetts — the authority to allocate its shrimp landing quota set by the ASMFC between gear types in the event the fishery reopens. In the last years that there was a commercial fishery — there has been a moratorium on fishing since 2013 — trawlers caught about 90 percent of shrimp landed but there was a growing trap fishery.
The allocation of annual landings quotas between gear types appears largely academic as, for the sixth year in a row, there is unlikely to be any commercial shrimp fishing season.
Early last month, the ASMFC shrimp section met in Portland to review the latest scientific assessment of the shrimp stock. The news was not good.
In the 2018 Benchmark Stock Assessment, which forms the basis for decisions about the coming season, scientists said the population of shrimp in the Gulf of Maine continues to be “depleted.”
Spawning stock biomass — the combined weight of all shrimp old enough to reproduce — has remained at “extremely low levels” for the past five years. The latest assessment estimated the 2017 figure at 1.7 million pounds. The historical average is 7.9 million pounds.
“Recruitment,” the number of new juveniles that enter a population in a year, was also down — estimated at less than half that of past levels. That decline can’t be attributed to fishing, regulators say, because of the long moratorium.
Rising ocean temperatures are another matter.
Fishery biologists say warmer water temperatures generally lead to lower recruitment and poor survival during the shrimp’s first year of life. Ocean temperatures in the western Gulf of Maine shrimp habitat have increased rapidly over the past decade, and the temperature is predicted to continue rising as a result of climate change.
Except for a tiny “research” fishery, there has been no commercial shrimp season since 2013.