ELLSWORTH — Meeting in Portland at the end of August, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Northern Shrimp Section selected several final measures for inclusion in the latest revision to the Fishery Management Plan for northern shrimp.
Known as “Amendment 3,” the latest version of the plan will bring about a number of significant changes to the way the fishery is managed — if indeed the northern shrimp fishery is ever resuscitated. Because fisheries scientists believed that the northern shrimp population had collapsed, commercial shrimp fishing on the Gulf of Maine has been banned since 2014 with only an extremely limited harvest for scientific data collection purposes permitted.
Before the amendment becomes effective, it will have to be approved by the ASMFC. In its recent action, the shrimp section also recommended that the commission approve the amendment at its next meeting, tentatively scheduled to be held in Norfolk, Va., next month.
The newly recommended provisions would make several changes in both the philosophy and the practical measures affecting the management of the shrimp fishery.
The plan’s stated objectives will now call for managing the resource to support a viable fishery and will give individual states more control over the way the fishery is managed.
Also, changing environmental conditions, especially rapidly warming waters in the Gulf of Maine, would be taken into account in preparing scientific assessments of the shrimp resource.
“It’s a temperature-driven fishery,” Terry Stockwell, a recently retired Department of Marine Resources assistant commissioner and a member of the section, said in a statement announcing the recommendations.
Other changes would allow quicker access to peer reviewed scientific data used to modify the computer models used to estimate the state of the shrimp resource.
Specifically, Amendment 3 will give scientists the flexibility to use the best available information to define the status of the stock and set the total allowable catch, or “TAC” that controls the fishery each year.
The amendment also establishes a program to allocate the annual allowable catch among the three states — Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts — regulated by the management plan.
Each year, 80 percent of the TAC will be allocated to Maine, with 10 percent allocated to New Hampshire, and 10 percent to Massachusetts. The section will have the discretion to reallocate quota from New Hampshire and Massachusetts, unused by a date determined when the annual TAC is set, to Maine.
Within each state, 87 percent of its annual quota will be allocated to the trawl fishery, and 13 percent to the trap fishery. Eventually, the fishery management plan could be modified to allow states to adjust the allocation between gear types on an annual basis.
The amendment also includes a “payback” provision in the event a state lands more than its share of the quota in any given year. If that happens, the state’s quota for the following year would be reduced by 100 percent of the excess, but if the three state fisheries landed less than the annual TAC the excess would be forgiven.
There are also some provisions affecting the gear shrimp harvesters may use. Trawlers will be required to install a system of grates in their nets to reduce the catch of small, male shrimp in the hope they will survive and spawn.
The amendment also strengthens catch and landings reporting requirements. The new rules will require weekly reports of daily sales, not just to dealers as in the past but directly to consumers by roadside “peddlers.”
Whether or not there will be a shrimp season this winter remains an open question. The section is scheduled to meet Nov. 29 to review the 2017 stock status report and set the dates and TAC for the 2018 fishing season if there is to be one.