PORTLAND – Regulators on Friday voted to shut down New England’s shrimp season early for the second consecutive season because fishermen surpassed the target set by biologists.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission decided at an emergency meeting to close the fishery on Feb. 28, about six weeks earlier than scheduled.
Even with the early closing, the amount of shrimp pulled from the North Atlantic will exceed the 8.8-million-pound limit set by scientists.
Because of the decision, hundreds of fishermen will have to tie up their boats earlier than expected and fish processing plants will run out of shrimp.
Longtime shrimp fishermen say there are too many fishermen going after the shrimp. That includes groundfishermen whose days at sea have been cut, as well as lobstermen.
“The problem is that this is an open-access fishery and for the past two years it’s been curtained early because of new entrants into the fishery. And the historical entrants have suffered because of that,” said Maggie Raymond, head of Associated Fisheries of Maine. “It just can’t continue.”
Maine sold 456 commercial shrimp licenses this season, up from 335 last season.
The season was supposed to run from Dec. 1 through April 15.
Found in the Gulf of Maine, northern shrimp provide a winter fishery for hundreds of fishing boats.
Boats from Maine typically catch about 90 percent of the annual harvest, with small numbers of boats from New Hampshire and Massachusetts catching the rest.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, based in Arlington, Va., expressed concern that the large harvest this season could hurt next year’s shrimp catch.
Officials say a better reporting system is needed to provide biologists with the information they need to make timely decisions to protect the fishery.
Before next season, the commission will be working on a better reporting system, as well as possibly limiting the number of shrimp licenses, said spokeswoman Tina Berger.
Raymond welcomes the idea of restricting the number of fishermen who are allowed to fish for shrimp with nets and traps.
With so many fishermen, and the potential for early shrimp season closings, it’s difficult for those fishermen with the greatest dependence on shrimp to make a business plan, she said.