ELLSWORTH, Maine —- Fishermen who want to talk to regulators about the northern shrimp fishery, and about why this winter’s shrimp season was shut down six weeks early, will get the chance to do so early next week in Hancock County
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has released its public information document on the fishery on its website and is soliciting public comment about it. To that end, the Maine Department of Marine Resources is holding a public hearing at 6 p.m. Monday, May 2, at Ellsworth City Hall.
According to a press release from ASMFC, the hearing and others that will be held in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire will give the public the chance to weigh in on “changes observed in the fishery, actions that should or should not be taken in terms of management, regulation, enforcement and research; and any other concerns about the fishery.”
Stephen Beathem of Maine Shellfish in Ellsworth said Friday that one of the main regional concerns with shrimp regulation, which likely will be raised at Monday’s hearing, is the way targeted catch limits are reached. Shrimp are migratory, he said, and start the winter season in the western Gulf of Maine before they swim toward the east.
This past winter, the targeted landings limit for northern shrimp was 4,000 metric tons, or about 8.8 million pounds. The season was scheduled to be open from Dec. 1, 2010, to April 15, 2011, but by mid-February an estimated 4,200 metric tons of shrimp already had been caught. As a result of the high landings in the western Gulf of Maine, the season was closed at the end of February, six weeks ahead of schedule.
Beathem said more should be done to limit offshore shrimp fishing so fishermen in eastern Maine get more opportunity to harvest the crustacean before the season ends. He said an area fisherman who sells to Maine Shellfish told him that his best day of shrimp fishing was Feb. 28, the last day of the season.
Had the season been extended, Beathem said, fishermen in eastern Maine would have had the opportunity to catch between 250,000 pounds and 500,000 pounds of additional shrimp in Down East waters.
“That has a tremendous impact on the economy of the area,” Beathem said.
The seafood processing official said that regulating the industry to promote inshore shrimp fishing would be more fair and more sustainable. Adult female shrimp come near shore to release their eggs, he said, and are more likely to have released their eggs by the time they have appeared in inshore traps and nets. Down East fishermen also are likely to have more opportunity to catch shrimp if offshore shrimp fishing is restricted so that shrimp have more time to travel east before the catch limit is reached, Beathem said.
According to ASMFC officials, other management aspects of the fishery that are open for discussion include trip limits, mortality targets, limited entry and a reporting system, among others.
Other hearings on the shrimp fishery will be held in Maine later next week. Besides the hearing in Ellsworth, one will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 4, at the Portland High School library in Portland, and another at 6 p.m.Thursday, May 5, at Rockland Middle School in Rockland.
The deadline for submitting written comments is 5 p.m. May 20, 2011. More information about
the fishery and about submitting comments is available at http://www.maine.gov/dmr/rm/shrimp/pid.htm or by calling Michael Waine of the ASMFC at 703-842-0740.