Regulators are considering ending New England’s shrimp season early because fishermen are catching too many shrimp.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has scheduled an emergency phone meeting Friday to consider shutting down the season – possibly next week – for the second year in a row because the harvest is fast approaching the 8.8-million pound target set by scientists in the fall.

If the season ends early, half a dozen or more companies in Maine will have to stop processing shrimp, and hundreds of fishermen will have to tie up their boats.

The harvest has been strong because of a healthy shrimp population, more fishing, and stable markets that have produced strong prices, said Glen Libby, a shrimp fisherman in Port Clyde and president of the Midcoast Fishermen’s Cooperative, which processes and sells shrimp under the Port Clyde Fresh Catch label.

“For us, it’s a big scramble and we’ve got lots of orders coming in last minute because everyone’s in a panic now, and they want shrimp,” Libby said.

Northern shrimp live in the cold waters of the Gulf of Maine and provide a winter fishery for hundreds of boat crews. 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 shrimp population is cyclical, and scientists set the season each fall based on abundance. The fishery boomed in the mid-1990s before declining and eventually bottoming out in 2002 – with most processors and fishermen dropping out of the industry.

But over time, the shrimp have rebounded and processors have rebuilt their markets.

The current 136-day season started Dec. 1 and was scheduled to end April 15, with a recommended maximum catch of 8.8 million pounds. If the harvest hits the target, regulators can end the season. Last year, they shut it down three weeks ahead of schedule.

This season’s preliminary harvest was pegged last Friday at about 7.2 million pounds. Those numbers will be updated by this Friday, said Bob Beal, director of the commission’s interstate fisheries management program.

Boats are catching almost a million pounds of shrimp each week, and Beal said the target for the season could be reached by the end of this week. If the season were allowed to run through April 15, scientists speculate that the harvest could exceed 15 million pounds.

More boats are going after shrimp this year. Maine officials sold 456 commercial shrimp licenses this year, up from 335 last year. At the same time, prices are about 20 cents a pound higher than they were last year.

Officials have discussed ending the season early next week, late next week or possibly the first week of March.

At the Midcoast Fishermen’s Cooperative, Libby said, “We’re hoping we’ll get to mid-March or at least early March because we still have shrimp orders to fill.”


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