PORTLAND — For such tiny critters, northern shrimp can kick up quite a storm among fisheries regulators.
Meeting in Portland last week, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Northern Shrimp Section voted to continue the moratorium on shrimp fishing in the Gulf of Maine for another year. First imposed in 2013, the moratorium will remain in force for at least one more year.
That means no shrimp fishing season in 2018, at least for Maine fishermen.
Commission members from Massachusetts and New Hampshire also voted to allow the harvest of 13.3 metric tons (about 30,000 pounds) of shrimp next year for research purposes. Details of the research program will be determined later this month.
In an email, Department of Marine Resources spokesman Jeff Nichols said Commissioner Patrick Keliher “was very disappointed” with the proposal and voted against the research set-aside.
The 13.3-metric ton research quota was considerably smaller than in the past. Between January and March of this year, eight trawlers from Maine and one each from Massachusetts and New Hampshire were allowed to fish for up to a total of 53 metric tons (about 117,000 pounds) for research purposes. The boats caught a total of 32.6 metric tons (71,871 pounds), or 62 percent of the research set-aside.
In 2016, the set-aside was 22 metric tons (about 48,500 pounds).
Last week, Keliher proposed a 200-metric ton (441,000-pound) research quota. According to Nichols, Keliher believes the larger amount “would do no harm to the resource but would provide greater opportunity for Maine harvesters” while allowing scientists to continue to gather “important biological data” about the shrimp resource.
One area of research Keliher has pushed is the continuing study of the effectiveness of using a “compound grate” in trawl nets to reduce the catch of small shrimp. The compound grates have narrow openings at their forward end and larger openings toward the rear to sort out small shrimp and return them to the water.
To allow for the greatest potential of eggs to drop to improve prospects for future fisheries, Keliher also called for delaying the start of any fishing season until after most of the eggs carried by female shrimp had hatched.
After last winter’s shrimp survey, scientists estimated that 50 percent of the hatch had taken place by Feb. 21, later than in past years and long after the nominal Jan. 1 start of the season, “so that date would have likely been considered” as a starting date, Nichols said.
A look at data from last winter’s shrimp survey has to be disheartening to fishermen.
In western Maine, three boats took part in the survey, spent a total of 88 hours towing nets during 25 fishing trips and caught an average of 286 pounds of shrimp per hour of fishing.
In eastern Maine, only two boats took part in the survey. They spent 98 hours towing during 14 trips and caught an average of 45 pounds of shrimp per hour of towing.
Even at $4.60 per pound, the boat price during the last “full” fishing season in 2012, that’s fairly slim pickings for a day of hard work.