December 4, 2012

Maine shrimp fishermen's catch limits cut 74 percent

The state's $70 million industry, which employs 1,500 fishermen, faces the devastating cut due to overfishing and environmental conditions.

By Jessica Hall
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Maine's shrimp season was curtailed by nearly 75 percent on Monday after scientists warned that the shrimp population is at risk because of overfishing and environmental conditions.

click image to enlarge

In this Friday, Jan. 6, 2012 file photo, James Rich maneuvers a bulging net full of northern shrimp caught in the Gulf of Maine. New England fishermen have been given an unusually low quota for the upcoming year. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)


2013 — 1.38 million

2012 — 5.3 million

2011 — 13.3 million

The commission said the 2013 season had to be curtailed because the northern shrimp stock has been overfished and water temperatures are the highest on record.

The state's $70 million shrimp industry, which employs 1,500 fishermen, boat crew members, shippers and processing workers, will open later than usual and be limited to 26 percent of last year's catch.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which met Monday in Portland, set the season's catch limit at 1.38 million pounds, down from 5.3 million pounds caught last year.

In 2011, a total of 13.3 million pounds of shrimp were harvested.

The 2013 season will begin on Jan. 22 for trawlers, which will be allowed to harvest on Mondays and Wednesdays. For fishermen who use traps, the season will start Feb. 5, with a daily limit of 800 pounds per boat.

The season will end when the catch limit is approached.

Past shrimp seasons have started as early as December.

The commission said the 2013 season had to be curtailed because the northern shrimp stock has been overfished and water temperatures are the highest on record -- an unfavorable condition for shrimp.

Weak numbers of shrimp entered the fishery in 2010 and 2011, which threatens future harvests, the commission said.

The scallop fishery is also facing limits. Scallop fishermen are operating under new regulations that divide the state into three zones and establish a rotational system for harvesting.

The shorter season and limited catch will put pressure on the shrimp industry, which also had a curtailed season in 2012, starting Jan. 3 and ending Feb. 17 as shrimpers quickly exceeded the allowable catch.

In November, a committee for the fisheries commission recommended that the shrimp season be called off for 2013. If a season was allowed, the committee recommended starting it after at least 50 percent of the shrimp had hatched their brood. In recent years, the midpoint for the hatch had been around Feb. 15.

The committee based its recommendations on the "assessment of current stock status, the biology of the species, and the stated management goal of protecting and maintaining the stock at levels that will support a viable fishery on a sustainable resource."

Gary Libby, a fisherman from Port Clyde, argued that a moratorium should be avoided at all costs because fishermen rely on shrimp for a few paychecks each winter, when other fishing options are limited.

"We really need a season," he said at Monday's meeting, according to The Associated Press.

The limited season for shrimp will also affect consumers.

"There will be a lot of disappointed customers," said Mike Alfiero, an owner of Harbor Fish Market in Portland.

Alfiero said Maine shrimp are a small part of Harbor Fish's business, but will be missed after the shortened season.

Last season, the average price for shrimp was 96 cents per pound, generating almost $5.1 million wholesale, the fisheries commission said.

The limit on this year's catch is likely to put pressure on prices, industry experts said.

The commission's shrimp-regulating panel, with representatives from Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, set the season and the target harvest based on scientific surveys.

In the past, fishermen and processors have said the panel's scientific studies were flawed.

Maine was outvoted 2-1 on the proposal to reduce the catch limit. Maine Marine Resources Commissioner Pat Keliher argued for a higher catch limit than the one approved Monday.

Last year, Maine accounted for about 90 percent of the shrimp landings in the Gulf of Maine. Of the 306 boats in the Gulf of Maine last winter, 273 were from Maine, 18 were from New Hampshire and 15 were from Massachusetts, the fisheries commission said.

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