Wednesday, April 23, 2014
The Maine shrimp season is just a fond memory this year. With the 2014 season closed because of a stock collapse, there will be no shrimp chowders to warm your belly. No decadent, creamy shrimp risottos. No sweet, delicate shrimp to toss into your favorite pasta dish.
Jeff Buerhaus, chef/owner of Walter’s, has switched to Laughing Bird, a sustainably farmed Caribbean shrimp, for his small plate appetizer of shrimp tacos.
Photos by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer
Buerhaus says the texture of the Laughing Bird shrimp is a little firmer than that of Maine shrimp, and the meat is not as sweet.
With so many people pining for the tiny crustaceans, I thought it would be interesting to see if there are still any frozen shrimp out there from the 2013 season for consumers to snap up before they’re gone for good. I also checked in with some Maine restaurants to see what they will be offering on their menus as an alternative to Maine shrimp.
A round of calls and emails to Maine fish markets and grocery stores confirmed that there’s hardly any Maine shrimp left out there in the consumer pipeline, except for Hannaford grocery stores.
“In terms of frozen shrimp from last year, we do have a limited supply in some stores,” said Hannaford spokesman Eric Blom.
Tom Keegan, who handles shrimp and lobster sales for Cozy Harbor Seafood on Portland’s Union Wharf, said the Hannaford shrimp are cooked, peeled Cozy Harbor Maine shrimp found in 9-ounce packages in the frozen seafood case.
“They do have some product in most of the stores now, I believe,” Keegan said. “I’m not sure how long it will last. We really don’t have anything to follow it up with.”
Keegan said the company has considered buying northern shrimp from Canada, but has not made a decision yet.
“I think it would probably happen sometime in the first half of the year if we were going to do something like that,” he said. “The Canadian season really kind of kicks in in April.… That’s when they see their largest shrimp.”
Michael Alfiero of Harbor Fish Market in Portland said they “bought heavy” last year, knowing that this year’s Maine shrimp season was uncertain. They ran out of stock in the fall. The market has purchased a limited amount of Canadian shrimp that Alfiero is selling in bulk to loyal wholesale accounts for $10 to $11 per pound, but “I don’t really have anything for the retail trade.”
The Gulf of Maine shrimp, Pandulus borealis, is the same species as the northern shrimp harvested from Canadian waters, but a completely separate population, according to Margaret Hunter, a scientist at the Maine Department of Marine Resources who works on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s northern shrimp program.
Scientists consider the Maine shrimp to be isolated from its Canadian cousin, she said, so Mainers don’t need to fear eating coldwater shrimp from Canada or, for that matter, places like Greenland and Iceland. It won’t harm the Gulf of Maine stock.
But even though the Maine and Canadian species are biologically the same, their life histories and the way they are harvested may be distinctive enough to result in a slight difference in taste and texture, chefs and processors say.
“Maine shrimp, the eating quality is so unique it’s hard to find another product that’s exactly the same,” Alfiero said.
Keegan notes that the Maine shrimp fishery is a small, dayboat fishery close to shore. Processors get the shrimp on the same day it’s caught.
“From the time it’s landed to processing, it’s a very short amount of time,” he said, “and it’s not that way in Canada. They get smaller shrimp in Canada. The larger shrimp is a much lower percentage of their overall catch. The shrimp we’re used to getting in Maine is considered very large for coldwater shrimp.”
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click image to enlarge
A catch of Maine shrimp in better times.
Press Herald file