December 8, 2013

Loss of shrimp season hits the pocketbook hardest

The Gulf of Maine has been closed to shrimping for 2014 after last year’s low harvest.

By Gillian Graham
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Today's poll: Shrimp season

Do you agree with the Atlantic States Maine Fisheries Commission's decision to cancel the Maine shrimp season?



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click image to enlarge

Gulls follow a shrimp fishing boat as crewmen haul in their catch in the Gulf of Maine in 2012. The Gulf of Maine shrimp population has fallen to the lowest level on record, setting the stage for a shutdown of the fishery this coming winter.

click image to enlarge

Additional Photos Below

2004 Telegram file photo

Maine shrimp on ice at the Portland Fish Exchange after the opening day of the shrimp fishing season in 2004. 

What’s so special about Maine shrimp?

Americans eat more shrimp than any other type of seafood – more than 4 pounds per person in 2011, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Maine shrimp, also known as northern shrimp, are wild-caught in the North Atlantic by trawlers or traps by fishermen in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The same species, Pandalus borealis, can also be found in the Arctic and the North Pacific; it’s in the southern end of its range in New England. The shrimp available at the grocery store are, for the most part, farmed in other countries. Most shrimp imported to this country, according to NOAA, comes from Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Indonesia and China, followed by Ecuador and Mexico.

More than 90 percent of the shrimp eaten in this country is farmed overseas, in countries where environmental standards are more lax. Shrimp farms use different methods – some are trying to grow shrimp more sustainably now – but for the most part these farms have issues with pollution, habitat destruction and the spread of disease.

Maine shrimp is mostly sold fresh at local retailers, while imported shrimp is mostly frozen before it’s shipped, then defrosted or sold frozen when it reaches local markets. Maine shrimp is also sold frozen, canned or smoked.

Maine shrimp is pinkish to reddish in color, and often sold with the large heads still on. But they are easier to process – the thin shells slip right off – and they don’t need to be deveined.

Maine shrimp are tiny compared to the farmed shrimp in the freezer case. They’re usually only a couple of inches long, although they can reach four inches, and have an average count of 50 per pound. Because they are so small, and have such a delicate, sweet flavor, many people prefer to just eat them raw. They also make a delicious ceviche preparation.

If they’re cooked, they should only be exposed to heat for a minute or two, never longer than two minutes, or their tender texture will turn tough. 

One Portland restaurant group plans for a lack of Maine shrimp

At Miyake, “Maine Shrimp Three Ways” has been a customer favorite since 2007. The dish is three different preparations of Maine shrimp on one plate – sashimi; ceviche-style with lime, lemon, truffle oil and sansho pepper; and shrimp with tamari and mirin. Pai Men Miyake serves a wok-fried Maine shrimp, prepared with heads on in a spicy garlic sauce.

Will Garfield, co-owner of the Miyake restaurants, said that without Maine shrimp as an option, the chefs will likely focus more on preparations like ankimo, a Japanese dish made with monkfish liver. “In colder months, (monkfish liver) is not as bitter as it can be in summer,” he said.

They’ll probably also serve more whelk harvested from Casco Bay. They already buy 100 pounds of it at the beginning of the year, and Garfield said that as far as he knows, they are the only place in town that serves it.

Garfield said Miyake occasionally uses farmed shrimp, but “I prefer not to use them. I think if you’re using shrimp, it’s got to be fresh, and I like to know where it comes from because from what I’ve read, the condition(s) in a lot of those farms are not ideal.”

The loss of Maine shrimp is “a loss for everybody,” he said, “but at the same time we need to protect the fishery, so it’s completely understandable. I’d rather lose them this year and have them come back stronger for the future.”

– Meredith Goad

“My dad used to tie a rope to me because I was never afraid of the water,” Simmons said. “(Fishing is) in my blood. It’s what I’ve always done. We know what hard work is.”

In the summer, Simmons spends six days a week hauling lobster traps. This time of year, he’s out on the boat several days a week. On days he’s not on the water, he’s often working at T+D Variety, the Boothbay store he and his wife, Deborah Frankel, bought earlier this year.

The shrimp season – usually about six or eight weeks long – is a welcome change of pace for Simmons, who also coached high school sports for 25 years. When he’s out shrimping, he stays closer to shore and uses less fuel, making the payoff for the tiny pink shrimp that much more sweet.

“Lobstering has been tough. (Shrimping) supplements our income. It’s extra money that people counted on for six or eight weeks,” Simmons said. “It’s tough to make a dollar out there right now.”

On good days last season, Simmons made $2,000 or more by hauling 1,000 pounds of shrimp in a day. Sometimes he’ll bring in a daily haul of 2,000 pounds. Last year he got between $2.10 and $2.20 a pound for his catch, a price made high by low supply and high demand. That extra income goes a long way toward maintaining his boat and fishing equipment.

“It’s going to hurt this year. I won’t have that income to replenish my gear,” Simmons said.

Instead, Simmons will spend more time lobstering than he would otherwise. His wife works full-time as a speech pathologist and they occasionally work together at the store. On Thursday, Simmons spent the morning baking muffins and banana bread to sell at the store. The day before, he was on his boat by 2 a.m. and didn’t get home until it was time for bed.

“I’m hoping I can catch enough lobsters to make up for this season,” Simmons said, sitting at his kitchen table, piles of receipts and invoices stacked neatly around him. “That’s what I’ve got to do. There’s guys up and down the coast here in the same bind.”


Mel Cushman of Port Clyde, whose husband, Randy Cushman, fishes both groundfish and shrimp, is bracing for the impact of the lost shrimping season.

“That’s half of our income,” she said.

Mel Cushman will look for a job as a bookkeeper to help make up for the lost income. She said they’re lucky to have family members who need help with their own businesses. Randy Cushman has been working recently both on his brother’s lobster boat and helping other family members with their tree business.

Mel Cushman said they worry about their crewman, who is now without work for part of the winter. They also worry about the future of the fishery, she said.

“This feels like a death in the family,” she said.

In South Bristol, fisherman David Osier, who owns five boats and his own wharf, is bracing for the loss of a third of his income. He also knows it will affect those around him, from the crews on his boats to the dock help and bookkeepers.

“You feel bad about it, but what are you going to do? There’s not much coming in,” he said.

Osier said he is hoping for good weather, which would make it easier to catch more groundfish. He’s also worrying about the future of the fishery, though he doesn’t want to give up shrimping entirely.

“We’ll be ready to go when they open her up again,” he said.

Shrimp processors also are eagerly awaiting the next season, but they aren’t staying still. At Port Clyde Fresh Catch, Glen Libby, a former shrimper who now runs the co-op, is looking for other seafood to process. Right now, he’s trying to develop new markets with crab, dogfish and squid.

“We’ll just have to be nimble and try to find other things to do,” he said.

Libby is confident the shrimp shutdown won’t be forever.

“The shrimp have disappeared before. There’s records that show back in the 1950s they disappeared when the ocean temperature was at a similar place to where it is now,” he said. “That kind of gives you hope that if it did go away back then and came back, maybe it will again.”

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

Twitter: @grahamgillian

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Shrimp fisherman Tim Simmons of Nobleboro stands next to the roughly 100 shrimp traps that won’t be used for the 2014 season.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Roger Collard unloads totes of shrimp from the hold of the Theresa Irene III after the boat tied up to the pier at Camp Ellis in Saco in 2006.

Telegram file photo/Gregory Rec


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Today's poll: Shrimp season

Do you agree with the Atlantic States Maine Fisheries Commission's decision to cancel the Maine shrimp season?



View Results