April 24, 2018
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Shrimp industry gets cold shoulder

By James Markos, Special to the BDN

Politicians and public leaders are quick to promise that they will bring more jobs to Maine and get our economy moving. They expressed outrage and concern recently when Kestrel Aircraft decided to locate hundreds of new jobs in Wisconsin instead of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.

But where was our Congressional delegation, the governor or members of the Legislature when regulators met recently in South Portland to reconsider this season’s devastating shrimp quota? What did they do to help save a $70 million industry that employs thousands of people up and down Maine’s coast?

There were hundreds of shrimp fishermen at the hearing, along with processors and dealers, all hoping that the regulators would listen to science and common sense and give us a chance to make a decent living during these cold winter months. More than 1,500 fishing families had signed an online petition at saveourshrimp.org urging the regulators to take a hard look at the science that argued strongly in favor of a bigger shrimp stock and a longer season.

Instead, with no help from our elected officials, the regulators turned their back on us and refused to raise this year’s shrimp quota to a reasonable — and scientifically defensible — level. That means that hundreds of fishermen will be out of work this winter. It means that processors who have invested millions of dollars to improve their facilities will send their workers home and idle their plants. It means that valuable overseas markets for Maine shrimp could be lost for years to come and will likely be replaced by shrimp from Canada and China.

This isn’t a case of greedy business interests ignoring the health of the shrimp resource in pursuit of the almighty dollar. This is a concerned and active industry that has armed itself with the best science available, pleading with regulators to ensure the sustainability of the resource and the sustainability of a traditional New England industry and the jobs it supports.

It all comes down to which computer model the regulators use to determine the size of the shrimp stock. One model, called the ASPIC model, estimates a record high shrimp stock. But regulators disregarded that model in favor of an alternative model called CSA that is far more pessimistic.

But two respected marine scientists, including a co-author of the CSA model, testified at last month’s hearing that the model used by the regulators severely underestimates the size of the shrimp biomass. A more accurate and scientifically defensible model would permit a total allowable catch of up to 4,500 metric tons, more than twice what the regulators have set for this season, and still be sustainable.

What’s frustrating to those of us in the shrimp industry is that even the regulators in charge of setting the quota agree that their model is flawed and needs to be revised. They have known this for years. So why not change it? Why use an outdated method to set a catch limit that will have such a devastating impact on fishing families and seafood businesses throughout New England?

The Northern Shrimp Section that sets the quota is comprised of representatives from three states — Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Each state gets one vote. Yet nearly 90 percent of the shrimp are caught in Maine waters, and nearly all the processing is done in Maine.

So despite our representative from Maine supporting an increase in the catch to 3,000 metric tons — which would have given the industry a lifeline through the winter — the other two states that will feel very little impact from their decision voted no. Is this fair?

Apparently feeling the pressure, the regulators agreed to lift the quota slightly, to 2,311 metric tons, an almost meaningless increase that will add at most two days onto the fishing season.

We believe the outcome could have been different if more of our elected leaders had weighed in and contacted their counterparts in the other two states. But we’ll never know.

When Massachusetts debates these issues, they get a good turnout of their elected representatives at the hearings. But here in Maine, not one Maine politician bothered to stand up. The industry was there, at the hearing, armed with good science, fighting on their own to try and get the regulators to do what is best for the shrimp resource and for all the jobs the industry provides. We could have used some help.

James Markos is general manager of Maine Shellfish Company in Ellsworth. Joining him in writing this Op-Ed were John Norton, president of Cozy Harbor Seafood in Portland; Angelo Ciocca, president of Nova Seafood in Portland; and Stan Bayley of Bayley’s Quality Seafood in Scarborough.

Correction: An earlier version of this website misstated the address of the website containing the petition. It is saveourshrimp.org, not saveourshrimp.com.

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