ELLSWORTH, Maine — Having reviewed landings figures from the first week of Maine’s shrimp fishing season, the state’s top fisheries official has decided not to change fishing hours in the second week.
The Maine Department of Marine Resources released a statement Friday indicating that the DMR commissioner will allow shrimp fishing from sunrise to 3 p.m. Monday, Jan. 28, and Wednesday, Jan. 30. Shrimp trawlers in the Gulf of Maine are allowed to fish only two days a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays, during the 2013 season, which began Jan. 23.
The target limit this year for northern shrimp is 625 metric tons, less than a quarter of what it was for the 2012 season. Six hundred and twenty-five metric tons is equal to nearly 1.4 million pounds.
Jeff Nichols, spokesman for DMR, said Friday that the department is keeping a close eye on shrimp landings in order to avoid catch overruns that have occurred in previous years.
Information about the estimated amount of shrimp caught in the 2013 season’s first week was unavailable Friday afternoon.
“Landings will be monitored closely and fishing hours may be modified for the following week,” DMR officials wrote in Friday’s statement.
The season for shrimp trappers will begin Feb. 5, with six landing days and an 800-pound limit.
Declining catches in the Gulf of Maine shrimp fishery — which only a few years ago was considered one of the few brights spots in the Northeast commercial fishing industry — have been attributed to overfishing, warmer ocean temperatures, and falling population growth rates, officials have said.
There are approximately 250 shrimp boats operating in the Gulf of Maine, of which roughly 225 are from Maine, where about 90 percent of harvested northern shrimp are brought ashore. The remaining boats in the fishery are from Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
In 2010, shrimp fishermen from the three states harvested more than 13 million pounds, even though federal regulators had set a limit of roughly 10.8 million pounds. In 2011 the limit was reduced to 8.8 million, but still shrimpers brought about 13 million pounds ashore before it was all added up. Last year, regulators limited the total season catch to 4.9 million pounds but that limit also was overrun, by as much as 1 million pounds, officials have said.
Because of those high landings, the season was closed three weeks early in 2010 and six weeks ahead of schedule in 2011. Last year the season lasted six weeks, ending in mid-February instead of the formerly traditional ending time in mid-April.
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.