Gulf of Maine shrimp fishery shuttered for the fifth consecutive year

Published on
November 30, 2017

It looks like this upcoming winter will be another quiet one for Gulf of Maine shrimpers. 

Regulators from the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) Northern Shrimp Section decided on Wednesday, 29 November, to keep a four-year-old moratorium on commercial shrimp fishing in the Gulf of Maine in place, prolonging efforts to protect and potentially revive the region’s long-dwindling stocks. Only a small research crew will be permitted to land up to 13.3 metric tons of shrimp from the gulf in 2018 for health assessment purposes as a result of the committee’s decision. 

By maintaining the moratorium for a fifth consecutive year, approving commission members were at odds with the sentiments of many fishermen, who were ready to take a chance with a modest season (between 500 and 2,000 metric tons) as a means to assess the gulf’s shrimp stock health.

“Most of the fishermen I’ve talked to, and most of the people in this room, want to roll the dice right now,” said Gary Libby, the chair of the Northern Shrimp Advisory Panel, during the committee gathering, held in Portland, Maine on Wednesday. Libby called for letting “economics manage the fishery,” by allowing commercial shrimpers to go out and see what they could find within the limits of a small quota.  

While Commissioner Patrick Keliher of the Maine Department of Marine Resources was willing to greenlight such a “boutique fishery” scenario, his counterparts from Massachusetts and New Hampshire weren’t prepared to go all in just yet.

“I want to give this stock a chance to recover for a few more years,” said Mike Armstrong, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries panel representative.

“When do you fish on a stock that has been impacted so significantly by environmental factors that the stock may never recover?” Keliher queried his fellow panelists.   

All panel members seemed in agreement that the state of the stock would most likely never return to the vibrancy seen in peak years such as 2010, when Gulf of Maine shrimpers hauled in 12 million pounds. According to a survey conducted by the commission’s technical team – “2017 Stock Status Report for Gulf of Maine, Northern Shrimp” – shrimp stocks have suffered record lows, in terms of both number and biomass, for the past five years. 

A variety of environmental factors have helped paint such a grim picture, explained Anne Richards of NMFS and NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center, who helped compile the report.

“There’s a lot going on environmentally right now in the Gulf of Maine – the temperatures have been rising; there are new species that are potential predators moving into the Gulf,” she said. “It’s a complicated picture environmentally. The environment is not a favorable one and not something we can’t control, unfortunately.” 

The commission staff’s resulting recommendation on extending the moratorium on commercial shrimping in the gulf focused on conserving spawning stock biomass in the face of a tough climate.

“Long-term trends in environmental conditions have not been favorable for northern shrimp in the Gulf of Maine,” the recommendation said. “This suggests a need to conserve spawning stock biomass to help compensate for what may continue to be an unfavorable environment.” 

Representative Keliher, frustrated by the continued moratorium, said that Maine would help ensure that  the 2018 research fishery was able to collect samples from the gulf, but that the state would not be participating beyond that capacity in the 13.3 MT initiative.  

The set-aside research fishery’s quota is a significant decrease from the 53 MT allowed in 2017 – fishermen were only able to acquire 32 MT of that limit last year.

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