Shrimp season shrinks

By Juliette Laaka | Dec 04, 2012
Source: Island Institute

A 2013 shrimp season will exist, but it will be short and yield about a quarter of the allowable catch allotted this year. The alternative was a moratorium, said fishermen.

This year's season, which begins Jan. 22, will allow for a 625 metric ton catch or about 1.4 million pounds, according to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Northern Shrimp Section Panel. This compares to about 2,000 metric tons allowed during the 2012 season, said Northern Shrimp Advisory Panel Chairman Gary Libby, a fisherman from Port Clyde.

The commission's technical committee recommended not having a season at all due to over fishing and environmental stresses on the stock.

Margaret Hunter, member of the technical committee, said allowing a season is risky as fishing at that level will not allow the stock to grow. The warmer spring temperatures in the Gulf of Maine is affecting the survival of shrimp larvae. One theory is they are hatching earlier than usual. Hunter said this is problematic because larvae need to hatch when food is available, which comes with the plankton bloom in March and April.

Libby said he is concerned about the shrimp fishery because of the technical committee's 2012 northern shrimp assessment report. Libby said the fishery faced a similar "warm patch" situation in the 1950s, but the stocks eventually recovered.

The limit is a reasonable compromise, considering the stock assessment, he said.

"It's the best available science and we have to take it whether we like it or not and craft a season," he said.

Maine Shrimp Trappers' Association President Tim Simmons of Nobleboro said he believes the test surveys are flawed. The technical committee uses tows in sections to check biomass, but Simmons said if the tows become crossed, they are not redone and no data is recorded. Simmons suggests trawlers work with test boats to ensure they use good gear.

Simmons also said some biologists say there is more biomass in the Gulf of Maine than the technical committee's data purports.

A new stock assessment model, designed by University of Maine Professor Dr. Yong Chen will be released next year, he said.

Libby surmised the season for trawling vessels will last two to three weeks, depending on the number of boats and how much shrimp they catch. In addition, fishermen are allowed to fish only on Mondays and Wednesdays.

The trapping season will begin Feb 5. Libby said the trappers are allowed 13 percent of the catch limit, about 151,000 pounds, split between 100 fishermen.

The 13 percent of the catch for trappers is low, Simmons said, adding trappers don't catch juvenile shrimp or egg-bearing females, following recommendations of the technical committee.

"We've been catching sustainable seafood and it seems like we're being penalized," he said.

An additional woe of the industry is the loss of the foreign market, Libby said. "It's a domestic market and a small fishery meant for only a few boats."

He said a proposal for a limited entry system will be submitted to the commission, adding the effort in the industry needs to be controlled because of the boom to bust cycles the fishery has developed.

When the industry is healthy and the price is good, people get shrimping licenses. When it curtails, many quit, leaving a few to rebuild the market before another onslaught of participation begins.

Last season, Libby said he fished for 17 out of the 21 days allowed.

"We did OK, paid the bills, paid for groceries," he said, adding that looking to make a killing is unrealistic because expenses from boat maintenance and fuel eat up profit.

"I suggest if people want shrimp this winter to get out there and get them early," he said.

Courier Publications reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at jlaaka@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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