Shrimp fishing in Maine has been closed since 2014, and regulators decided on 16 November that that’s not going to change for another three years.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted to close the 2019 Maine shrimp season, and in a first decided to close 2020 and 2021 as well. Regulators first closed the shrimp season due to research trawls finding little recruitment, and since then the story has remained the same.
Previous seasons of shrimping would sometimes come with a research quota of a few thousand pounds, but according to Tina Berger of the commission, “any level of fishing pressure that would increase mortality further would hinder any kind of stock rebuilding.” This year, there will be no shrimp catch of any kind, Berger said.
“The stock is so low, biomass is so low and recruitment is so down – the 2018 recruitment was 2 billion, and while that sounds like a lot, that’s even below the median,” Berger told the Lincoln County News. “Their rationale was, ‘Let’s close the resource for three years, and that way if we have a good year for recruitment, it would give that class time to grow into a fishable resource.’”
The news wasn’t unexpected. A draft of the Northern Shrimp 2018 Stock Assessment Report said that the Maine shrimp stock is depleted, and the biomass is at an all-time low due to a less favorable environment.
Environmental changes are part of what is to blame for the decline in shrimp in Maine, with increasing ocean temperatures a central reason cited for the decline. According to the report, while levels of recruitment are of similar magnitudes to what once sustained the fishery, there has been a change in the dynamic that indicates young shrimp are either not growing or surviving in numbers that they did in the past.
“We are backing into a place no fishery has ever gone, and that’s accepting that a depleted state is the new norm,” Mike Armstrong, a commissioner from Massachusetts, said in October. “I think we’re already there. It could be we could rebuild the stock, but I don’t think we can.”
Maine is the southernmost part of the shrimp’s historic range, and as the waters in the region warm the stock is likely to move north.
“Given that northern shrimp is at the southern limit of its range one may expect this species to be similarly affected by warming waters in the Gulf of Maine,” the report states.
Regardless, the likelihood of the shrimp fishery returning, even after three years, is slim.
“What I am communicating to our fishermen is that this is a signal that you should not plan on shrimp as a part of your business plan at any time in the future,” Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association spokesman Ben Martens said.
Photo courtesy of Maine