Abbreviated “shrimp season” gets under way as sampling project begins



It’s been several years since Maine fishermen have trawled for shrimp off Isle au Haut, but over the next several weeks, four boats will be allowed to make a few trips each and catch a limited amount of them so scientists can maintain an ongoing record of biological data about the Gulf of Maine shrimp population. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN FILE PHOTO
It’s been several years since Maine fishermen have trawled for shrimp off Isle au Haut, but over the next several weeks, four boats will be allowed to make a few trips each and catch a limited amount of them so scientists can maintain an ongoing record of biological data about the Gulf of Maine shrimp population. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN FILE PHOTO

ELLSWORTH — Last month, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission announced that there would be no northern shrimp fishing season in 2016.

This week, though, at least one Maine harvester collected shrimp from traps set somewhere along the Midcoast, and a few lucky folks may be able to buy some — all on the up-and-up.

This is the third year in a row that fisheries regulators have banned fishing for northern shrimp in the Gulf of Maine because the shrimp population had fallen to an unsustainably low level.

According to the ASMFC, a 2015 status report on northern shrimp indicated that the abundance of the resource from 2012 through 2015 was the lowest on record during the 32 years that scientists have collected data. For the past five years, the report said, shrimp failed to reproduce in significant numbers. The takeaway was that the size of the fishable shrimp stock during those years was “the lowest on record.”

Faced with that information, regulators had little choice but to ban fishing this year, but not quite all of it.

To allow scientists to maintain an ongoing record of biological data (such as size distribution and timing of the egg hatch) about the shrimp population, ASMFC approved a sampling program that would allow fishermen to land a total of 22 metric tons (48,501 pounds) of shrimp from the Gulf of Maine. By contrast, in 2013, the last year in which there was a commercial shrimp fishery, New England fishermen landed just over 345 metric tons. Maine fishermen landed about 84 percent (289.7 metric tons, or 636,679 pounds) of the total.

This winter, ASMFC established a sampling program to allow four trawlers and two trappers to fish in distinct regions of the Gulf of Maine. Each trawler would be allowed to land a maximum of 1,800 pounds per trip, while trappers would be allowed a weekly trap limit of 40, with a weekly landings limit of 600 pounds. Participating trawlers and trappers will be able to sell their catch and the trawlers will also be paid $500 per trip for expenses.

Earlier this month, ASMFC announced the names of the trawler fishermen and trappers selected to participate in the program. The four trawlers are: Norman “Neal” Pike (Seabrook, N.H.), who will fish in the New Hampshire-Massachusetts zone; Marshall Alexander (Biddeford), who will fish in the Western Maine zone; Dana Hammond (New Harbor), who will fish in the Midcoast area, and Gary Libby (Port Clyde), who will fish in Eastern Maine.

The two trappers chosen are Bill Sherburne of Boothbay and Rodney Genthner of Friendship.

According to Margaret Hunter, a resource scientist at the Department of Marine Resources and a member of the ASMFC Northern Shrimp Technical Committee, boats and trappers were asked to apply for the program to fish in a specific region.

Then, “after a review of applicants’ landings history (to make sure they had experience) and their violations history, a name was drawn from a hat for each region from the qualified applicants.”

There were no qualified applicants from eastern Maine, Hunter said, most likely because of the expense and effort involved in rigging their boats for shrimp fishing with only a very limited number of trips likely.

According to the ASMFC, with sampling starting late this month there will likely be no more than six trips, one or two trips in both January and March and two in February. Timing will depend on the rate of egg hatch as the winter progresses, and timing will vary from the western areas to the eastern.

The sampling vessels will also have to collect extensive data on their fishing operations and deliver it, with samples from their catch, to DMR.

One of the trappers landed his first shrimp on Monday and was scheduled to deliver his samples and data to DMR on Tuesday. The rest of the sampling is likely to get under way this week.

“Please don’t call this a survey,” Hunter said in an email this week. “Boats will be fishing to make money and collect samples but the project is not comprehensive enough and it’s not statistically valid to draw any conclusions about shrimp abundance; that is not its purpose, though it is tempting to try.”

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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