August 11, 2011

Proposed shrimping rules would bar some fishermen

By CLARKE CANFIELD The Associated Press

One of New England's last open-access commercial fisheries could be closed to new participants as regulators look at new ways to manage the region's shrimp fishery. Some fishermen fear the restriction will harm their ability to make ends meet in the winter.

New rules proposed for the Gulf of Maine include options for the coming season such as quotas and restrictions on where and when shrimp can be caught. The proposal also includes a rule that could -- as soon as 2013 -- bar or restrict fishermen who don't have a history of fishing for shrimp.

The plan follows shrimp seasons that were cut short because fishermen caught too much shrimp too fast. The new plan aims to add flexibility in managing the fishery.

Many fishermen say that limiting the number of boats is probably the best way to maintain shrimp populations while allowing fishermen to turn a profit.

"There aren't a lot of good options if you can't control how many people continue to come into the fishery," said Maggie Raymond, executive director of Associated Fisheries of Maine, who owns two groundfishing boats that aren't used for shrimping.

Raymond said, "We've brought this fishery back from some very low levels and we'd like to have it sustainable. We think the only real way to do that is to have control over how many boats are in the fishery."

The Maine Lobstermen's Association opposes limits on new fishermen.

To supplement their income in the winter, many lobstermen rig their boats to catch shrimp, said Executive Director Patrice McCarron. Limited entry would shut out some of those lobstermen and future generations, she said.

"Shrimp is the one fishery that's left that still provides fishermen adaptability," McCarron said. "If you need a little extra income in the winter, you can land a few shrimp and continue to patch a living together as a fisherman. I think to shut that door completely changes the culture, changes how our small coastal communities operate and how they survive the winter."

The Gulf of Maine typically accounts for about 2 percent of the nation's annual shrimp harvest. In the Gulf of Mexico, the catch is about 40 times as large.

But the waters off Maine are an important source of winter income for hundreds of fishermen. Boats from Maine typically catch about 90 percent of the harvest, with a few New Hampshire and Massachusetts boats catching the rest.

Regulators now manage the fishery by deciding how long the season should be and setting a target catch based on scientific assessments. Shrimping was cut short in each of the past two seasons because fishermen surpassed the target. Fishermen last year caught about 13 million pounds, exceeding the target by 48 percent, according to preliminary figures.

The proposed rules are opening the door to several new management alternatives. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which regulates the fishery, is taking public comment on the ideas until Sept. 30.

The goal is to have new regulations for the next shrimp season, which begins in December, said Michael Waine, the commission's fishery management plan coordinator for shrimp. A scientific panel will set the season in early November.

One option would limit how much shrimp could be caught on each trip. Another would limit the number of traps. Other options would designate days when fishermen could not go after shrimp or set quotas by zone, by season or by month. Another proposal would require that catches be reported weekly, rather than monthly.

The draft also includes the proposal to restrict who can enter the fishery. Fishermen who weren't in the fishery as of June 7 would be treated differently from those who were.

The restriction wouldn't be enacted for the coming shrimp season. If it's approved, it will go through its own rule-making process and wouldn't take effect before the 2013 season.

Terry Alexander, a fisherman from Harpswell who serves on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's northern shrimp panel, said most fishermen dislike quotas and trip limits. "I don't think limiting people as to what they can catch is a very good idea," he said. "You're going to be shoveling shrimp overboard."

He favors a limited-entry program so fishermen don't jump into the fishery when times are good and hurt those who have been committed to it.

"I don't know why we haven't done it before this," he said.

 

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