ELLSWORTH — Shrimp fishermen in the Gulf of Maine will be operating under an entirely new set of rules the next time they go out, if they ever go out again.
At its annual meeting in Norfolk, Va., last week, the Atlantic States Fisheries Management Commission adopted significant changes to the Northern Shrimp Interstate Fishery Management Plan. The revisions to the plan are, according to the commission, “designed to improve management of the northern shrimp resource in the event the fishery reopens.”
When, or if, that will occur is open to considerable doubt. The shrimp harvest has been closed under a moratorium since 2014 except for a minuscule fishery for the purpose of collecting data for scientists to maintain a long-running survey of stock size and age composition.
On Nov. 29, fisheries regulators will meet in Portland to review the 2017 stock status data and set dates and landings quotas for the 2018 fishing season, if they decide to allow any fishing at all.
The revisions to the management plan, known as Amendment 3, sets up a program that allocates 80 percent of the total allowable catch set by annually commission scientists (the “TAC”) to Maine, 10 percent to New Hampshire and 10 percent to Massachusetts. Any portion of the New Hampshire and Massachusetts TACs unused by a date set at the start of each season would be added to the Maine share.
For the time being, 87 percent of each state’s landings quota will be allocated to trawlers and 13 percent to trap fishermen. Eventually, the amendment will allow an “adaptive management process” that would let states change the allocation between trawlers and trappers each season.
The annual TAC is the basic tool for managing the fishery. The new amendment gives regulators more flexibility to use the best scientific information available to determine the condition of the shrimp resource and set the TAC each year.
The amendment also contains tougher catch and landings reporting requirements and sets up penalties if a state exceed its annual quota.
By the end of November, fishermen will know if there will be a 2018 fishing season, but the odds don’t appear favorable.
The latest report on the status of Gulf of Maine shrimp stock reflects that in terms of abundance and biomass, the numbers for the period from 2012 to 2016 were the lowest in the 33-year survey history.
The number of shrimp that hatched each year between 2010 and 2015 include the three smallest year classes on record and the 2012 to 2016 harvestable biomass numbers are the lowest on record.
As recently as 2011, more than 300 Maine boats took part in the shrimp fishery. This year, with no commercial fishery, 10 trawlers and five trappers took part in a research sampling program and landed about 71,650 pounds of shrimp. In 2013, the last year that commercial fishing was allowed, Maine harvesters landed 760,595 pounds of shrimp, about 55 percent of the annual TAC set by regulators.
In 2011, just before the shrimp population collapsed, Maine fishermen landed some 12.3 million pounds of shrimp.