Regulators continue shrimp fishing moratorium



PORTLAND — In a move that shocked nobody, fisheries managers voted on Friday to extend the moratorium on shrimp fishing in the Gulf of Maine for three more years, through 2021.

The action came at a meeting of the Northern Shrimp Section of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which also approved modifications to the shrimp fishery management plan that will become effective if the fishery ever reopens.

The vote to approve changes to the management plan was unanimous. The vote to keep the fishery closed for three more years was 2-1, with the representatives from Massachusetts and New Hampshire voting in favor.

Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher offered the sole vote against the proposed moratorium. According to DMR spokesman Jeff Nichols, Keliher would have supported a one-year moratorium.

The moratorium vote seemed to be a case of the tail wagging the dog.

Historically, landings by Maine harvesters represented the vast majority of total shrimp landings each year. In 2013, the last year in which there was a commercial shrimp fishery, Maine harvesters landed about 84 percent of the total catch. Maine’s share had been even higher in some previous years.

The decision to keep the moratorium in place came in response to “the continued depleted condition of the northern shrimp resource.”

According to the most recent stock assessment, both biomass (the estimated weight of the total shrimp population) and recruitment (the number of shrimp born each year that survive to the juvenile stage) remain at historically low levels.

Scientists say that even were recruitment to improve, “it would take several years for those shrimp to be commercially harvestable.”

The 2018 Stock Assessment Update reported that the Gulf of Maine northern shrimp spawning stock biomass was estimated at 1.3 million pounds, about 200,000 pounds lower than in 2017. Recruitment has also been low in recent years, with 2018 recruitment estimated at 2 billion shrimp, well below the median of 2.6 billion shrimp reflected in years of study.

There are several reasons, ASMFC regulators say, for the continued decline of the shrimp population.

Predation contributes significantly to the natural mortality of northern shrimp. Shrimp are an important food source to cod, haddock and whiting, all of which are found in the Gulf of Maine.

Climate change is perhaps the most significant factor affecting recruitment.

Ocean temperatures in the western Gulf of Maine have increased over the past decade, with warmer water temperature generally associated with lower recruitment and poorer survival during the first year of life.

With the continued rise of ocean temperatures predicted, the Gulf of Maine is likely to become “an increasingly inhospitable environment for northern shrimp.”

Given this change in the environment and the lack of change in stock status despite the fishery being under a moratorium for the past five years, regulators questioned whether the current management approach remains appropriate. In response to a suggestion by Keliher, they agreed to establish a working group to evaluate management strategies.

“His goal was to inform the section of different strategies that could possibly be used for 2020,” Nichols said.

Despite the grim prospects for a future fishery, regulators also approved an amendment to the shrimp management plan that gives each state the authority to allocate its state-specific quota between gear types (trawl nets or traps) in the event the fishery reopens.

The ASMFC Northern Shrimp Section includes representatives from Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. In addition to Keliher, the representatives from Maine are outgoing state Sen. Brian Langley, DMR biologist Margaret Hunter, Long Island fisherman Steve Train and Port Clyde fisherman Gary Libby.

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]

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